St. John Virgin Islands Memories: Tuna Sandwich

As followers of my blog might already know, I used to fish commercially on St. John in the early 1970s along with my good friend, John Gibney. The following story is about what we had for dinner one night:

We left early in the morning to pull our traps and returned to the Cruz Bay dock around noon or so to sell our fish.

The morning’s haul was particularly nice, an assortment of good sized pot fish,  grouper, snappers, ol’ wifes, and even a couple of lobsters that we brought into the while they were hanging on to the outside of the fish trap.

As usual, people were gathered on the dock awaiting our arrival. Sales were brisk. we sold out in no time. Put the money in our pockets. Put the boat away and cooled out for the rest of the day.

In the late afternoon we thought about dinner.

“Let’s check out Miss Lilly’s,” I say and off we go to the little market where La Tapa Restaurant is now. St. John markets at that time were not a great place to find fresh vegetables, meats or fish or anything else  for that matter. It was hit or miss. Mary, a lady from Tortola, brought over fresh produce once a week and occasionally a boat from Puerto Rico brought a nice selection of stuff from that island. Otherwise, you grew it or you caught it or some neighbor turned you on to it,

So here we are at Miss Lilly’s, shopping  for what we can get with the money we earned that day, and we end up buying a couple of cans of tuna, some onions, some bread and make sandwiches. Not until we sit down to eat do we realize then the utter absurdity of our situation hit us. We had sold all our nice fresh fish and here we are eating tuna sandwiches on white bread.


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One thought on “St. John Virgin Islands Memories: Tuna Sandwich”

  1. Hi Michael,
    Local reef fish may contain the toxin called ciguatera, causing a rather severe “fish poisoning.” Some fish are more likely to carry this than others, such as larger predators like barracudas and king mackerals. Also, some areas are more likely to have ciguatera carrying fish than others, the north shore being safer than the south. In the old days people were likely to trust the fishermen to avioid suspect species and locales thus minimizing the danger or they simply took their chances applying whatever logic or folk wisdom that suited them.This still is the case with many locals today. There is even a test kit now to identify the toxin, although it is a bit expensive and somewhat complicated.

    Nowadays, restaurants, as a rule, avoid local fish entirely as do most food markets, probably to avoid getting sued. Also the Virgin Islands is less self sufficient than it used to be and the number of fishermen fishing the reef and offering fish for sale has declined drastically. Those that still fish tend to fish offshore to the drop offs going after pelagic fish such as tuna and mahi mahi not effected by the problem.

    On the positive side, the presence of ciguatera has kept large scale fishing operations away from the Virgin Islands.


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