Swordfish: Gladiators of the Deep
After reading the June 15-16 WSJ “Gladiator of the Deep” review of Richard Ellis’s Swordfish: Biographer of an Ocean Gladiator, I looked forward to reading and writing about the book. The hardcopy is nearly $20, but on Kindle it just $9.90.
Swordfish electrons have just been sent my way, and then via magical wifi electromagnetism will flow to my Kindle. But Swordfish photons not having come my way, I’m left to review the review, which I have read, twice. Take it from me, its a big fish. Up to 1,500 pounds and with a long sword or bill.
But apparently a bill, or sword, not likely to have impaled a porpoise, according to Swordfish reviewer Tom Fort. Fort mentions a favorite book of his youth, Battles with Giant Fish (1923) by F.A. Michell Hedges. With a title like that, I wanted a copy, knowing I’d likely not be having my own battles with giant fish.
But Battles with Giant Fish is harder to find and over $50. Through an oversight at the Googleplex, Battles hasn’t yet been scanned to e-book. However, a short review is on Fishingbookreviews.co.uk here.
The review begins:
This was a popular book in its day and was reprinted at least three times, which is unusual for any book on fishing – the title must have helped. In a nutshell, you get just over 300 pages of total bloodbath, and I do not exaggerate, because there isn’t much rod and line fishing in here and Mitchell Hedges used whatever method worked regardless of how unsubtle it might have been. At one time he considered using explosives, but in the end he settled for capturing most of his fish using half inch hawsers and massive hooks attached to ten foot chains loaded with up to 70 pounds of deadbait. Subtle, it ain’t and the pages are full of thousand pound sharks being polished off with rifles and revolvers…
The the wholesale slaughter stories in Battles with Giant Fish were apparently exaggerated, but recent giant swordfish slaughters are ongoing and have accelerated since the 1980s. From Fort’s WSJ review of Swordfish:
In general, he even manages to keep his temper when recounting the catastrophic collapse in swordfish stocks brought about since the early 1980s by industrial fishing with drift nets and, later, long lines, although every now and then burning outrage bursts through. For instance, Mr. Ellis quotes a passage by the ecologist and campaigner Carl Safina detailing the slaughter along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. Between 1989 and 1996 catches by American boats fell by 60% even as the number of hooks set by long-liners doubled to more than 11 million.
“These numbers are beyond incomprehensible,” Mr. Ellis writes. “They demonstrate an appalling ignorance on the part of consumers—should every fish in the ocean be killed so people can eat swordfish steaks?—and the almost pathological unwillingness of swordfishermen to recognize that they are killing the goose that lays the golden egg.”