Having stuffed the hold of his 50-foot trawler, Relentless, with Dover sole, David “Rowdy” Pennisi, 43, and crew member Michael Odom headed to San Francisco in the early hours of June 21, 2004 to offload their catch. But, like hundreds of other Central Coast fishermen, they never made it back to port.
The Pennisi family has been a cornerstone of the Monterey fishing industry since the early 1900s, and the tragic story of Captain Rowdy and the Relentless has since become local lore. Rowdy’s sister, Elizabeth Pennisi-Nozicka, says since her brother’s accident, memorializing the lost fishermen of the Central Coast has weighed heavily on her heart. Monterey is one of the only major fishing ports on the West Coast without a dedicated memorial to commercial fishermen.
Heading up People United for American Commercial Fisheries, Pennisi-Nozicka and her husband, Jiri Nozicka, are reaching out to the community with high hopes that this year’s Third Annual Fisherman’s Days will raise enough money to construct a permanent memorial.
Technological advances like the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon and on-the-hour transponder transmissions, which relay ship speeds and locations to the National Marine Fisheries Service, are designed to make life safer for fishermen.
But navigating the Central Coast is just as dangerous today as it was 100 years ago – maybe even more so, says Nozicka, a fisherman on the Pennisi family’s wooden trawler, San Giovanni.
With dramatic increases in what Nozicka describes as “unrealistic” and “nonsensical” fishery regulations, fishermen must head farther and more frequently out to sea, he says, and into weather that may have kept them docked in the past. Being hit by one of the many cargo ships that criss-cross between San Francisco and Los Angeles every day is also a very real threat.
California Department of Fish and Game Spokeswoman Jordan Traverso calls Nozicka’s suggestion that fishing regulations have contributed to deaths at sea “ludicrous.”
“We have no control over when a commercial fisherman goes out and when they don’t,” Traverso says. “That’s the business they’ve chosen.”
During last year’s Fisherman’s Days, PUACF organizers designed a temporary “lost at sea” room in the old train depot, complete with over 130 names etched on the walls.
“There’s 100 years of tradition built on fisherman’s lives,” Nozicka says, “and if people see the names, they will understand the cost.”