Here’s a real gem for professional or amateur ichthyologists. Recently we obtained a nicely maintained copy of E.M. Grant’s Guide To Fishes, first published in 1965. The 900-page hardcover book was originally intended to be a resource for marine researchers in Queensland, Australia, but it soon became popular with fisher- people worldwide, both commercial and recreational, and was unofficially subtitled The Fisherman’s Bible.

 

It is an important resource book of larger marine creatures that populate tropical and sub-tropical oceans. It is thoroughly researched and has over 500 colourful full- page photographs of specimens, partnered with detailed watercolour or pen and ink drawings.

 

When Grant first had his compendium published, the belief in most cultures was that the oceans were an unlimited source of seafood. Fifty years on, that belief has been blown out of the water. Overfishing, particularly with trawler nets, has seen a tragic decline in fish numbers and species with some, once teeming, fishing grounds almost deserted. Ocean warming has seen the extinction of many species, and jellyfish appear to be one of few marine animals that are increasing and invading habitats.

 

A recent feature length documentary, A Plastic Ocean, highlighted the disastrous impact of plastic debris on oceans and their marine life. If we add chemical run-off from polluted rivers and shore-side industries, oil spills and the occasional nuclear reactor failures to the menu, we come to understand why so many environmental scientists are pessimistic about marine life extinctions.

 

 

Fish in Crisis

 

James A. Lichatowich has detailed one major marine environmental crisis. He was a fishery scientist who spent more than three decades studying fish in the Pacific Northwest, in particular the seven species of Pacific salmon. Their lineage spans 400 million years but in the last 150 years they have become near extinct in the wild. His research is presented in Salmon Without Rivers: A history of the Pacific salmon crisis

 

Nowadays, salmon are grown in hatcheries and commercially farmed and the proliferation of these polluting farms is seen as environmentally unviable. As explained by Lichatowich: “Habitat degradation has not simply been a long-overlooked by-product of our industrial economy, it has been the direct result of the large-scale ecosystemic simplification that is a central and guiding vision of that economy.”

 

The author advocates the preservation of rivers and watercourses and naming them in law as fish sanctuaries; these sanctuaries being the only places where healthy wild salmon can revive their species. He has cause to be pessimistic about this as too many countries are hacking at the boundaries of the marine reserves that they created in less neo-liberal economic decades.

 

In Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, Paul Greenberg takes as his subject the global fisheries market and the relationship humans have with tuna, cod, sea bass and salmon — all of which have been chased to the verge of extinction in the wild.

 

He assumes that all nations that fish — and all fishermen — are somehow interested in protecting fish stocks but that the passion to protect is as strong as the one to kill them, and it’s this contradiction that is the focus of this easy-to-read book. The battle, he states “is with ourselves. Between the altruism that we know we can muster and the primitive greed that lies beneath our relationship with the creatures of the ocean.”

 

It’s a must read for people who enjoy eating fish, farmed or wild.

 

A Fishy Tale

 

The last novel Ernest Hemingway wrote in 1954, in those heady days when the oceans were considered to be eternally full of delectable eatables, was The Old Man and the Sea, his shortest, yet most powerful, tale. It was rewarded with the Pulitzer Prize for literature.

 

The old man is a struggling Cuban fisherman, Santiago, who, daily, heads out into the Caribbean in his small boat to fish with lines. His adolescent protégé, Manolin, has crewed with the old man since the age of five, but his parents have put him on another fishing boat believing that the old man is bad luck.

 

It’s been 84 days since Santiago’s had a catch and he heads out to sea further than he’s ever gone before, and in the midst of the Gulf Stream, hooks a giant marlin.

 

Hemingway writes of the old man’s three-day duel with the great fish, his attempt to bring it back to his village, and the attack by sharks that leave just a skeleton tied to his small boat when he lands.

 

As a recent commentator stated: The story is told with an incredible economy of words and description, yet nothing is sacrificed which drives home the power and inner strength of this man, who just takes it as what he does, what it is to be a serious fisherman.

 

The novella is truly magnificent and all readers are warmed in the end when Manolin is overwhelmed with the old man’s formidable courage and fortitude and dares to defy his parents and resume his apprenticeship with Santiago.

 

Truong Hoang is behind the bookshop, Bookworm. For more info click on bookwormhanoi.com or visit their shop at 44 Chau Long, Ba Dinh, Hanoi

 

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