Making a living by fishing has always played an important role in the development of Pine Island. Spanish fishing camps existed as early as the mid 1700s. A Dutch surveyor, Captain Bernard Romans, hired by Great Britain reported that the Spaniards and Spanish Indians were running thirty vessels and salting a thousand tons of fish each year back to Cuba. According to Romans, they caught huge quantities of mullet but they only took the roe. He claimed a fisherman made about $28,000 for eight months of work back in 1769.
Early in the 1800s, Terevo Padilla came from Spain and set up a fishing camp on La Costa island (what is now Cayo Costa). A warehouse and quarters for the fishermen were built. Two more generations of Padillas were born here. Jessie Padilla followed his grandfather’s lead and earned his living as a commercial fisherman most of his adult life.
In the early fishing camps, long seins (nets) were rolled onto huge spools and kept on the beaches. This allowed the fishermen to harvest mullet on a daily basis. They would fillet the fish and remove the roe. Everything would be packed in salt in wooden kegs which Padilla took by boat to Key West. They traded for supplies and money.
In 1831, a law was enacted that required foreigners supplying markets beyond their territories to pay a fee of $500 and post a $2,000 bond. Heavy fines were levied on anyone fishing without a license or trading with the Indians.
The Preemption Act of 1841 was the beginning of the end of Spanish fisheries. This act permitted settlers to claim 160 acres, establish residency and then purchase it for a $1 or $1.25 per acre after six months. Most of the Spanish or Indian fishermen had no legal land titles. Consequently, this drove the fishermen out when the settler’s claim was established.
Another type of fishing was going on in the early 1900s, and the was the harvest of shellfish. Just as the Calusa Indians did for thousands of years before the early Pine Island settlers the residents of Pine Island took advantage of the abundance of oysters, scallops and clams. Below is a picture of some early shellfish gatherers.
Photo Credit Museum of the Islands