The 40-year-old Doris Mae IVwas as much a member of the Barnegat Light community as it was a part of the Eble family. But federal regulations have been gobbling so much of the fishing, that when another sportfishing boat owner made a healthy offer, the time for change became clear.
The 100-foot Doris Mae IV will become the offshore Voyager, out of Fishermen’s Supply Dock in Point Pleasant.
“Actually our boat was not for sale,” Ron Eble recounted, with wife, Cindy, from the kitchen table of their Cape Cod-style house seven blocks from the docks. He co-owned the headboat with his brother, Charlie.
“The guy came down and looked at the Miss Barnegat Light, the guy who owns the Voyager in Point Pleasant, and he made them an offer and it wasn’t acceptable. And he came over and said, ‘Well, your boat’s the one I really want.’
“We told him it wasn’t for sale. He called a week later and made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. It was like, wow!”
(To clarify, the Miss Barnegat Light “is not for sale,” said Mayor Kirk Larson when called this week. “The guy just asked if we were looking to sell it. We weren’t really looking to sell it,” he said of his family.)
New owner Jeff Gutman’s revised website already features a picture of the boat with its new name Photoshopped in – kind of a strange sight when the Ebles see it.
“Selling this boat is like a double-edged sword. It’s really tough. It’s like a member of the family.”
Ron, 63, “was born and raised in the business.”
The livelihood has seen dramatic changes since the Ebles’ father, Charles, started his own fishing business after World War II. The first Doris Mae was named after Charles’ wife. In 1960, the Doris Mae III was his first party boat. Ron started running that boat in 1973. Since 1975 the two older brothers had captained the Doris Mae IV, which they designed. It is powered by three turbocharged, 3412 Caterpillar diesels.
Doris Mae Eble, at age 86, is still a dockmaster working out of the tackle shop and selling bait and fuel on the north end of the Viking Village commercial dock at West 18th Street. Asked how she feels about the transition, her oldest son answered, “She thinks it’s right. She is seeing what’s going on with the fishing, just by the amount of bait she’s selling.”
“Regulations have taken more away from us every year,” Eble said.
“Just the way National Marine Fisheries has been going over the years,” he began the explanation. “It started out with size limits, and then they went to bag limits, and now they’re doing closed seasons,” he said, referring to the allowable harvest time for many species.
Dozens of people have lamented on Facebook that they will miss the knowledgeable captain and the hospitality. “If there are fish out there, Captains Ron and Charlie will put us on them,” one customer had thanked before the goodbye was announced on Jan. 2.
“I feel bad about that point,” Eble acknowledged. “I met a lot of good friends, and our crew was like our sons.”
But he wonders if such boats are going to be allowed to fish for anything in five years.
“We’ve lost so many species; we’ve lost Boston mackerel, we lost our codfish, we lost whiting, weakfish, now the bluefish. For the last two years, I had to give up my bluefishing – that really killed me.
“The National Marine Fisheries Service has already set a 28 percent reduction in sea bass for the coming year, and … I think last summer we were only allowed to catch three (per angler.) They’re also talking about limiting it to one tuna per man. They’re 30-hour trips for tuna and we charge $400 per person and they’re talking about limiting it to one tuna. Stripers are already at one for next fall.”
But the list of restrictions keeps growing. National Marine Fisheries Service closed the months of January and February to fishing for species that used to be lucrative. “That’s like the height of our sea bass and porgy fishing.
“This is the thing: for 30 years, they make us fill out fishing reports – how many people we had, and an estimate of how many fish and what species of fish we catch. We always thought they would be using that information to help us, but actually, it’s the opposite. They use it against us.”
Too many closures leave boat owners asking, “How do you pay your bills?” And they hurt crewmembers by cutting working time.
“It’s a shoestring budget as it is. And we put so much money back into it all the time; it was kept perfect. It’s expensive to do that,” Ron said.
Cindy started working for Ron in 1975, when night bluefishing trips were most popular. “There were 13 boats going out every single night,” she said. Over the years, the Doris Mae IV was the last to keep up that activity.
Marriage Proposal; A Good Catch
As the two good-naturedly finished each other’s stories, Ron obliged to tell how they got married 39 years ago. She worked in the galley, and he was supposed to be pitching in for her salary. The punch line is that, “I kept forgetting to pay her all the time. By the end of the summer, I owed her a bunch of money, and I thought maybe it would be cheaper to marry her.”
When people laugh, he adds, “I was wrong, by the way,” and keeps going with, “Wasn’t your first engagement ring a flip top from a Budweiser can?”
“I still have it,” came the answer from Cindy.
“And it’s funny how everything worked out,” Ron continued. “We went to buy a diamond ring and we went to Cherry Hill Mall, and it was Bailey Banks and Biddle. We saw this ring; it was a lot of money. I went there and I had no money on me; I thought we were just looking. But we really loved that ring. The guy gave it to us and let us walk out of the store with not a dollar down.”
The next generation of the Ebles loves to fish, too, and they have taken their children on board as well, so three generations have enjoyed the boat.
Lamentable. Changing Times
Last March, the family mourned the death from cancer of youngest brother Wayne, who chartered the Searcher II.
Now there are only two fishing headboats left in town – Miss Barnegat Light and Carolyn Ann III, both docked at 18th Street – after departure of the Doris Mae IV.
“It’s a nice, big, clean boat; and it’s just a shame that it’s going out of town,” commented Larson, a Viking Village fishing fleet owner. “There used to be 18 of those boats and now there’s only two.” He added that the fishing laws made and enforced by the state and federal governments “are going to ruin this industry.”
Gutman told the Ebles he wanted a bigger boat than his 77-footer for one-, two- and three-day offshore trips. And he invited the Ebles to come up and see her if they wanted to.
“He told me and Charlie the other day, he says, ‘Hey look, if I don’t have a trip and you guys just want to go fishing, just come up and take the boat.’”
Meanwhile a good customer of the Doris Mae IV offered to sell his 26-foot Ablemarle to Ron. He bought it. It will be named the Doris Maeson after both Ron’s mom and his granddaughter, Maeson.
“He wasn’t getting out of this business without knowing that he was going to have a boat,” Cindy assured.
“I know some good fishing spots out there, a few,” Ron deadpanned.
The life change is “going to take a while to sink in,” he said. “But I had a good life. They say if you love your work, you never work a day in your life. I never worked.
“I just went fishing every day.”
- Reposted from The Sandpaper, 1/7/15
Doris Mae IV Setting Off to New Port