Dec. 2, 2007 — Longtime fisherman Thomas Daley gets sentimental just talking about his adopted home of 40-plus years.
"I am thankful to this community that has given me so much," he says of St. Croix. He pauses to clear this throat before continuing. "This community has loved me. It was here I raised my children and became my own boss. This community has given me just about everything — my children, a way to live. There were no doors that were closed to me."
Daley, 65, is a well-known fisherman on the island. The former carpenter took up fishing full time in 1974 and has never looked back.
"I had seven children, and the money wasn't there at the time, and what really shouldered me was fishing," he says. "It helped me raise my children and quite naturally sent them to school."
He and his wife, Laurel, have seven children: two boys and five girls, including a set of twin girls. The children are all adults and thriving in their own jobs, Daley says. One of the twins is an attorney in Florida and the other is a regional manager for Verizon, one of the top cell phone companies in the United States, he says proudly.
Daley is known for parceling out his unsold fish to those who may need it, and often takes residents to Buck Island on his 44-foot fishing boat. Once there, he treats them to a picnic of fried fish.
"I would make my boat available maybe once or twice a month," he says. "These were people who otherwise wouldn't get to Buck Island because they didn't own a boat, and probably would have to pay one of the local businesses who did excursions to get there."
It's the least he can do for a community that has made him who he is today, Daley says.
"It was a service that I did as a way of giving back," he says.
And, he says, he used the trips as a sort of "teaching process."
Daley says his catch almost always included blue fish, grunt, and doctor and shellfish, but many preferred other fish to those choices.
"When I would take them to Buck Island I would fry some of the fish that I caught, and they would taste it," he says. "And maybe because of the way I prepared it, they would start buying it."
Daley's generosity came to an abrupt halt three years ago, after the boat caught fire because of a malfunctioning exhaust system. He has since replaced the boat.
"I went looking for one just like it," he says.
But the free trips to Buck Island are still on hold. These days the free fish is distributed in his yard, and usually when a football game is on television.
"I do not waste any of the excess fish, because what I don't give away to people I fry it up myself and invite people to come and enjoy it," Daley says.
Those who know Daley for his kindness also know that he is no pushover. He is one the most vocal fishermen on the island of St. Croix.
The longtime member of the St. Croix Fisheries Advisory Committee is seldom absent and never silent at meetings involving fishermen.
"If a meeting is called, I am going to be there, because it's part of my occupation," he says. "I want to make certain that I'm a part of the process of what goes in the community that has given me so much."
He currently serves as vice chair of the group, which advises the commissioner of Planning and Natural Resources on fishing issues in the territory.
"I've been there since it was instituted in the '70s," he says. "I am not afraid to talk about the occupation that I love, and I am not afraid to point out when things are not going right."
While he took up the carpentry trade as an adult, Daley says, fishing has never been far away from his heart.
"I've been dabbling in it ever since I was a young boy," he says. "My calling was fishing. I had a boat, and as things folded with carpentry, I needed a crutch to lean on, and fishing was right there and I did not look back."
Daley says his biggest fear is that the local fishing industry will go the way of agriculture and take a back seat to imports.
"Years ago you could make money off of fishing, but these days it's over regulated," he says. "There's a ban on this fish and that fish and what type of net that can be used, where to fish, and now we have to deal with where to sell the fish, since the (LaReine) fish market is closed, and all of this is making people antsy."
But Daley said he is heartened by the fact that with increasing recalls on beef and poultry and the trend toward eating healthier, the fishing industry will be around for a long time.
"We've all heard of mad cow disease and bird flu, but there's been no such fears about fish," he says. "Local people on St. Croix are pretty much seafood eaters, and as fishermen we have to be careful what we do with our fish. We have to make certain that we preserve it for those eating it. Cleanliness in how we handle our fish is paramount."
Daley says he hopes more young people take up fishing as a way to earn a living.
"If they set their mind to it, it's something anyone can do," he says. "There are going to be easy days, and there are going to be days when fishing is fraught with challenges. One day you have bad weather, and other days you go out to sea and you come back empty handed, but hard work is definitely what pays off."
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