By Jessica Creagan
SEBASTIAN -- The city of Sebastian has a rich history of locals fishing for their supper and their livelihood in both the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean, but times are changing, and the fishing industry is too.
A walk or drive along Indian River Drive in Sebastian gives visitors a glimpse of the fishing heritage of the city: long docks with boats tied up, the smell of fish being prepared, but the amount of full time commercial fishermen has declined over the past 20 years.
With the help of the working waterfront grant, the city of Sebastian is trying to build a place for local fisherman to be able to thrive, but no one truly knows what shape the fishing industry will take in the future of Sebastian.
Indian River County Commissioner Wesley Davis said he believes there will always be fishing in Sebastian, but it may take on a different form.
"I think fishing has shaped the history and culture of Sebastian and the whole northern part of the county," Commissioner Davis said.
"When you go down Indian River Drive, you can feel it and see it, even if you've never been there before. It's different than any other place on the eastern coast of Florida," he said.
Fishing in the Indian River Lagoon may have slowed down, but Sebastian's easy access to the Atlantic Ocean through the inlet is another reason fishing will always be a part of the town.
"I think fishing is just as important today as it will be 25 years from now," Commissioner Davis said.
Fishing has been the business of quite a few families in Sebastian, and four families in particular had long-standing businesses on Indian River Drive; the Semblers, the Mays, the Smiths and the Judahs, said Linda Colvin, daughter of the recently deceased James Coolidge Judah.
Mr. Judah, along with his father and brothers, opened Judah and Sons Fish Market in 1949, and it is the only business of the "founding four" that still exists as it did in the mid-1900s, on the same property and under the same family name, Ms. Colvin said.
Keeping the business open in the past 20 years has been difficult with changes having to be made to fit fishing regulations, and with her father's passing, Ms. Colvin isn't certain how much longer they will stay in business.
"We are the last one left on the water," Ms. Colvin said.
"But the fact is we have bills to pay. As long as we can keep paying our bills, we will keep the business open, I think, but we live in a different world now. I would just hate to see a bunch of condos go up," she said.
Her son, Chad Colvin, shares his grandfather's love of fishing in the Indian River Lagoon, said people's mentality of consuming fish has changed over the years.
"People in my generation, compared to when I look at my dad and my grandfather's generation, have such busy lives," Mr. Colvin said.
"Families don't gather as much as they used to. Used to be when you'd have a family reunion, you'd have a fish fry, or when you had a church social, you'd have a fish fry. People don't have the time now to go out and catch their own fish and cook it for supper. If they want fish, they go to a restaurant now," he said.
He sees the trend of charter and sport fishing growing and becoming much larger than full-time commercial fishing in the future.
Ms. Colvin remembers going out on the boat to fish with her father when she was younger and all the preparations that had to be done to the nets before heading out and after coming back with the day's catch.
"The main fish we caught was mullet," she said.
In the mid-1990s, the state imposed a ban on the style of net fishing Mr. Judah used and ever since it was enacted, Ms. Colvin said her father never went back out on the Indian River Lagoon, not even for pleasure.
"It was his life that is what he did and he loved it and it was gone," Ms. Colvin said.
Mr. Judah was originally from Holmes County, but came to Sebastian with his family at the suggestion of family friend, Archie Smith, one of the other fishing village founders in Sebastian.
In the plans of the city's working waterfront project on Indian River Drive is a small fishing museum inside the Fisherman's Landing building. While the world changes and the commercial fishing industry evolves with it, there should be a place to pay tribute to the ones who made their home and livelihood on the banks of the lagoon.
Caption for the above file photo: For more than a half a century, James “Coolidge” Judah fished the Indian River and supplied Indian River County residents with fresh fish. This photo from November 2003 shows Mr. Judah cleaning up around the fish house.