Once I caught two fish alive

John Dory & Co.

On Saturday my friend Harry took me out fishing on his little 20-foot sloop.

It’s winter time here in New Zealand — not the best time for fishing the Hauraki Gulf. The weather can be foul, the water is cold, which means the fish are not that hungry, and most of them have moved away from the sheltered waters around Auckland.

Today was scheduled to be different, at least in terms of the weather. For a change, we’d be sitting under one of those big fat high’s that come swirling off the hot-plate they call Australia. At least until late afternoon, when the high would say goodbye, we’d have a cloudless, calm day.

The trip out

It was a brisk 8℃ (46℉) at 5 AM, as Harry paddled out us to his mooring at Northcote Point. With no wind, we would have to motor for at least two hours to reach favorable waters. We chugged out the Waitemata (Auckland’s harbor), North up the Rangitoto channel and then towards the East, into a gorgeous sunrise, to Rakino Island.

This was the first time I’d been in that area, and it’s beautiful! Rakino is covered in dark green and surrounded by dark blue. The occasional cluster of houses interrupt the green, as clusters of rocky islets interrupt the blue. Little masts, just like ours, poke up from behind the headlands that surround the welcoming bays.

Picture of a sloop, from wikipedia

A Sloop, similar to Harry's

We anchored in about 20 m (65′) of the dark blue stuff just North of Rakino. The fish-finder insisted there were plenty of fish below us. We threw lines out, drank coffee, and waited. Then we waited. Then we waited some more.

Then I waited alone, while Harry went below to make breakfast — bacon, eggs, sausage, beans, toast and, of course, more coffee.

Enter Johnny

We were expecting Snapper, so Johnny came as a bit of surprise. I’ve never caught a Dory before, but I’ve caught enough Snapper to know that whatever had my line was not a Snapper.

A Snapper will thrash around, presenting frequent, strong tugs on the line, interspersed with longer, more determined pulls downwards. This little fellow was moving around slowly and gently, apparently not so little, yet not really resisting the pull upwards.

Besides, a John Dory, aka St. Pierre, or kuparu in Māori, won’t take cut bait, the way a Snapper will. Johnny likes his dinner still flapping, or at least pretending to flap, like one of those new-fangled soft plastic baits.

So imagine our surprise when this huge, beautiful Dory popped up to the surface and just lay there, almost motionless, fins spread out in all their glory.

Not what we were expecting.

Enter Jack

It wasn’t until we netted her that we noticed the two little yellow bits of tail fin sticking out of Johnny’s mouth. We lay her gently on the bench, and with a silent prayer of appreciation, quickly dispatched her in the traditional way. It’s not pretty, it’s not nice, but I’m sure it beats being swallowed alive and slowly suffocating while being digested. Which, it turns out, is exactly what Jack was going through.

Dory photo from the web

A Dory with her mouth extended

My next surprise came when I opened Johnny’s mouth to see what was attached to that tail fin. I’ve never seen a live Dory before. I’ve also never seen a Dory as big as Johnny before, dead or alive, not even in the fish market. I’ve definitely never seen inside a Dory’s mouth before.

The mouth of a John Dory is a masterpiece of engineering. A complex system of interconnected hinges and diaphragms opens and extends to form an almost perfectly cylindrical tube, running fron the huge mouth opening all the way to the belly.

As the mouth is rapidly opened and extended and the tube forms, water rushes into the tube, carrying with it whatever is swimming in the water.

photo of a Dory with mouth extended, underwater

A Dory with her mouth extended underwater

In this way, the Dory literally inhales its prey head first.

Johnny’s mouth tube was so big, I could have fitted my whole hand in, up to and including my wrist. Except for the fact that Johnny’s mouth tube was already occupied.

The little yellow tail fin sticking out was attached to a large Jack Mackerel. I reached in, grabbed the tail fin, pulled gently, and out came Jack.

Jack was so big, his mouth would have been about where Johnny’s black spot is. At its widest, his girth was the size of a soda can.

The story unfolds

Jack had taken my bait, which he still held in his teeth. But Jack had not been “hooked”, because before there was time for that, Johnny had taken Jack. The hook still dangled loosely from Jack’s mouth, the bait still attached.

photo of a Jack Mackerel

A Jack Mackerel

Jack was still alive, though shivering in shock. The front of his body was covered in green stomach fluids.

We let Jack go, although it’s doubtful he will survive.

Johnny went into the ice-bin.

The end

As for the rest of the day, the fish had much more luck than we did. By three o’clock the wind was starting to pick up and it was time to head back. We hoisted sail and sailed all the way back to the harbor.

By the time we got back, the wind was quite fresh and a swell had started to develop. As we pulled up to the mooring, the first light rain came, a warning of what was to come.

Back on the hard, we divided Johnny and each went home to a delicious, healthy, fresh dinner.

synoptic chart

The High says "Goodbye", a Low says "Hello"

For the record, Johnny weighed about 3.5 kg (7.5 pounds), not counting Jack.

The high pressure zone has moved away, but the high of the trip will stay with me forever.

Thank you, Harry.

Thank you, Johnny.

Thank you, precious Ocean.

How can you be so cruel?!

I knew you’d ask that.

Hurting something that you don’t intend to kill, that’s cruel.

Killing something that you don’t intend to eat, that’s unforgivable.

Humans are the only species that does both deliberately. I do neither.

How can you still go fishing, while the oceans are being destroyed?

I thought you’d never ask.

Our oceans are indeed being destroyed, by overfishing, by destructive fishing methods and by pollution. If we continue along this path, our oceans will soon be reduced to a massive toxic slime pond.

There is a way out, but it will take an Ocean Defense Force to make it happen.

First, we need to stop pouring our junk into the oceans. All that junk gets broken down and consumed by micro-organisms, then it makes its way up the food chain to our dinner tables.

frame from Susan Shaw's TED talk

Susan Shaw's Toxic Body Burden

Skeptical? Get your blood tested, as Susan Shaw did.

Susan submitted a sample of her own blood to the same tests routinely performed on dolphins and other marine mammals found dead or dying on the beaches of the world.

The results should not come as a surprise, considering that we are all part of the same global food chain. Directly or indirectly, we eat what dolphins eat. Some of us even eat Dolphins.

Next, we need to increase the extent of our ocean reserves from the present 1% to 20%. The commercial fishers will complain like hell, yet the harvest will increase in just a few short years.

The problem is, we are eating into our capital. Once we increase our reserves, we will be able to live off the interest. At least until 2050, when we hit the 9 Billion mark.

But that’s another story.

Lots more to learn about this subject here.

Thanks for caring.

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