Devil Fish

A Review: Linda Greenlaw’s The Hungry Ocean
by Emma Kelley -- January 17th, 2014

Welcome back everyone!

We’re wrapping up the second full week of classes here at the Nicholas School.  I wanted to start off this incredible semester of classes and new adventures with a review of a fascinating book I read over winter break…

The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw

The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw

I picked up The Hungry Ocean because of my interest in its author: Linda Greenlaw.  I first heard her name while reading Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, which referred to her as “one of the best captains, period, on the entire East Coast.”  Following the publication and popularity of that book, Greenlaw found herself in a seat of authority.  She began writing and chronicling her experiences as a swordfish boat captain.

After reading The Perfect Storm, I promptly forgot Greenlaw’s name until last semester, while watching a documentary on overfishing, in my Ocean and Coastal Law and Policy course.  The documentary interviewed Greenlaw and portrayed her as a young captain, lacking the extensive experience of “old salts” who witnessed the effects of overfishing throughout their careers.  The older fishermen mourned the overfishing of the Georges Bank and reminisced about the days when they pulled in 300 lb. swordfish.  Greenlaw was juxtaposed with these men, saying that everything is fine because she pulls up “good” 100 lb. fish.

I dare say she was portrayed as wrong, if not flat out naïve.

I was shocked that someone I regarded as an authority on fishing, especially of large predators, denied the fact that overfishing has depleted the world’s fisheries, if not run them completely into the ground.

I immediately sought out to understand her reasoning and lucked out finding her book at a local library sale.

Over break, I finally got around to reading it.

I would definitely recommend this book as a good read.  Greenlaw tells an epic story about life as a fisherman and one particular trip to the Georges Bank.  She deals with racist crew members, the weather, intense competition, little sleep (we’re talking less than 4 hours a night for almost a month….seriously) and no promise of compensation.

Only a chapter into the book, I was totally engrossed and had completely forgotten my original motivation to read it.  Then, on page 144, for only two paragraphs, she touched on conservation.

Although she didn’t address overfishing, she did speak favorably about regulations set forth by “our country’s finest scientists and bureaucrats.”  She discussed a feeling of persecution by ignorant restaurant chefs who decide they know more about conservation than scientists or fishermen, choosing to boycott swordfish in their restaurants in the interests of conservation.  She also discusses how modern fishermen are conservation-minded, yet punished for the unregulated fishing by other countries.

While she never addressed my original question, I found her general perspective agreeable…to at least some degree.  She trusts the government to set effective regulations and prevent overfishing.

Unfortunately, one of the first things I’ve learned about fisheries management is how government regulations are not always based solely (if at all) on the best scientific data available.  Many other interests come into play and catch limits are sometimes (even recently) set above the optimum sustainable yield, or even the maximum sustainable yield, resulting in overfishing.   I think Greenlaw is doing the best any fisherman can –trying to protect her livelihood and fishing legally.

So, go read The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw.  You’ll never feel justified whining about how tired you are ever again.

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