Sunday, February 8, 2015

The State of the Fishery

From the perspective of someone who has been obsessed with fish-catching since childhood, the week’s news was mixed. There were stories about efforts to reduce dynamite fishing, on the unintended consequences to fish populations of attempts to combat malaria, and on the use of satellites to identify seafood pirates.

The view from the kayak, however, was truly amazing. On Saturday morning, it looked like this (for comparison’s sake, that’s a size-12 Simms sandal on the right):

In Florida, these fish are called dolphin; on our home island of Aruba, dorado; but they are better known on menus by their Hawaiian name: mahi-mahi. 

Back in the mid-1980s—when I worked as the mate on a charter boat and moonlighted as a tropical-fish collector and commercial fisherman—we often caught dozens of dolphinfish a day, sometimes hundreds. I was certainly grateful for them at the time, with the precise level of that gratitude varying by the rate we received at the local fish house: usually between $0.79 and $1.39 per pound.

Even considering the greater worth of those Reagan-era dollars, such prices seem criminally low for a commodity as valuable as fresh fish. Which is why the good fortune I experienced Saturday occupies an entirely different range of the spectrum.

Though I release most of what I catch here on Aruba, I resolved to kill this dorado and honor its death. With wasabi and soy sauce, lime juice and cilantro, panko crumbs and curry paste.

When you only have one fish to clean, you have the luxury of using it all—much like dressing your own ducks or butchering your own deer. After skinning and fileting this fish, I saved the roe, the collar, and the head.

I enjoyed the roe pan-fried for breakfast, with stewed tomatoes from Sarah’s container garden, avocado, and toast. The collar was cooked in the Japanese izakaya style, with grated ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, and mirin. And the head, of course, became Singapore fish-head curry.

Most North Americans will never get to savor these dishes because they won’t be able to find the appropriate parts of the fish in the market. But what if the trend toward artisanal food spread to seafood providers, in the same way that craft beer and real bread can now be found from Vermont to Montana?

Even if the movement never makes it out of Brooklyn or Palo Alto, a few more fish-obsessed types might find it easier to both make a living and show respect for the creatures they pursue. And that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing . . .

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