Captain Nelson Reginald Beideman (1953-2006) was an avid commercial and recreational fisherman and ardent advocate for responsible fisheries and fishermen. He served as the voice of the Atlantic Pelagic Longline fishery from 1990 through until his death in 2006 at the age of 53. His work continues to benefit fisheries to this day.
He was born in Camden, NJ and fell in love with fishing at a very early age through experiences with his father and uncles. He worked as a mate on his father’s charter boat the F/V Resolute from age 8 until age 13. His nickname “Hammerhead” was already well-established by then. He took a job as a mate for Captain Louie Puskas on the F/V Gra-Cee out of Barnegat Light, New Jersey. He worked all summer and most weekends year-round with Captain Puskas.
Although he was an excellent student and demonstrated leadership at Pennsauken High School as President of the Key Club, his love of fishing and the ocean prevailed. He set for and acquired his 100 ton Captain’s license shortly after his 18th birthday and applied and was granted a full scholarship to Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) in Castine, Maine. As a member of the Deck Department, his leadership skills led him to become the President of the school’s sole fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, which he held until his graduation in 1975. He received his Merchant Marine license as a Third Mate, unlimited tonnage, unlimited oceans.
As part of the curricula at the Academy, he traveled to many countries including Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Scotland and Russia.
Due to the oil embargo in the early 1970’s, the availability of deck jobs for Third Mates became limited. This resulted in only three deck jobs offered to the entire class of 1975 MMA graduates. Nelson received two of those offers and chose a job in an oil rig supply company in the Gulf of Mexico. During the summer of 1975, his love for fishing outweighed this job opportunity and he left after only three months to return to Barnegat Light, now his real home. He ran charters on the F/V Pirate King for the summer and loved every minute of it. In the autumn of 1975, he and his friend, Mike Ciel, worked together to prepare a new tilefish boat to join the Barnegat Light fleet, the F/V Marion Frances. Being hard workers, the boat quickly became a Highliner of the fleet, and Nelson’s reputation as an excellent worker and productive fisherman grew. Over the next few years, he worked as a Captain for several boat owners until in 1981, he finally was able to purchase his own vessel, the F/V Terri Lei. The tilefish fishery was going strong and he made the most of it. He trained excellent crewmembers on the deck of the F/V Terri Lei. Many of these men became successful Captains on their own vessels.
In the mid-1980’s, he decided to pursue swordfish in the summer and the 60’ F/V Terri Lei was fishing at the Grand Banks along with many other larger ships. The Grand Banks fleet numbered around sixty vessels at that time. The F/V Terri Lei never went back to tilefish fishing. Instead, he followed the fish as they moved southward and migrated north to catch swordfish, tunas, sharks and dolphinfish (mahi-mahi).
In the spring of 1993, Nelson injured his back and required surgery. He was forced to find a Captain to the run the boat, which only occurred on three other trips in the entire twelve years of owning the boat. On the morning of April 7, 1993, the U.S. Coast Guard called him to report that the EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radiobeacon) registered to the F/V Terri Lei was sending a distress signal and they were sending out a helicopter to the position. He raced to the radio at home and called for the boat. After no reply, he spoke with other Captains that were in the vicinity fishing offshore of Charleston, South Carolina. No one had spoken to anyone aboard since approximately 1:00 AM. Several boats stopped fishing and began searching for the boat, the life raft or any sign of the F/V Terri Lei.
The life raft was located but there were no persons aboard. There were only small items of debris, the life raft and the EPIRB recovered. At the request of several members in Congress, the search was extended longer and farther than usual, but to no avail. Neither the F/V Terri Lei nor any of the four crewmembers aboard were ever found or seen again.
In 1990, Nelson and others in the U.S. swordfish fishery were made aware of a proposed rule that would have put them out of business. This proposal called for a unilateral closure of the U.S. directed swordfish fishery and allowed only an incidental catch limit of six swordfish per trip for tuna and shark fishermen.
At that time, American fishermen only caught approximately 29% of all North Atlantic swordfish caught each year. On December 22, 1989, a group of New Jersey pelagic longline fishermen, dock owners, dealers, and suppliers met at the Barnegat Light Firehouse to form the basis of Blue Water Fishermen’s Association (BWFA). Unlike some fishermen’s groups, BWFA was not formed to simply fight off or to forestall management of the species that we catch. BWFA’s members recognized the need for practical fisheries management for Atlantic highly-migratory fish stocks whose health is directly linked to the security of our own futures as well as succeeding generations of fishermen. Blue Water Fishermen’s Association was incorporated in Washington, D.C. in February of 1990. Nelson was elected as its first President – an office he held until April 1993 when he assumed the position of Executive Director.
In November 1990, two things occurred that moved resource management of these species toward realistic effective conservation and management. First, the Congress recognized the need for international management measures and the inequity of unilateral restrictions on U.S. highly-migratory species fishermen. Acting with sound resource principles that combined all highly-migratory species within one jurisdiction, Congress transferred the management authority for all Atlantic highly-migratory species from the Regional Council structure to direct authority under the Secretary of Commerce by amending the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The President signed it into Law on November 28, 1990, effectively rendering the proposed Rule moot.
Secondly, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) took significant steps to begin managing and conserving North Atlantic swordfish by implementing management measures affecting all major and minor harvesters in the Atlantic. ICCAT was more progressive in dealing with swordfish than it had been for other species. Though many stakeholders played a role, the recovery was largely a result of the fishermen themselves, led by Nelson through BWFA, being front and center asking for measures to be taken until the stock was rebuilt. Today, the North Atlantic swordfish stock is fully rebuilt as a result of effective international actions.
This was a huge success for Atlantic swordfish and for Atlantic swordfish fishermen. International management is not easy to achieve; however, for fish with international ranges, it is the only effective and equitable option.
He was always a recreational fisherman at heart. Even as young as 3 years old, he could be found with rod and reel in hand, fishing off the dock under his mother’s watchful eye. When his career kept him ashore, he took every opportunity to take his “little boat” out the inlet to catch some fish. He was particularly proud when he brought home dinner for his family and friends in the form of fresh black sea bass and fluke. Whenever possible, he would take friends and family out in Barnegat Bay to go fishing and crabbing. Recreational fishing was his favorite pastime all of his life.