Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
The Fishiness of Thanksgiving;
Rich Chinese vs. Poor Sharks
In the spirit of the season, I have to offer an interesting fish angle to America’s most revered feast: Thanksgiving.
Archeological research and a detailed letter written by a resident of Plymouth, Mass., offers a pretty comprehensive read on what was what back in the opening days of the “New World.” Plymouth is considered home to Thanksgiving – and maybe (via my sources) Black Friday.
Of course, that “New World” concept didn’t sit too well with the ancient residents of the region, the Wampanoag Indians. Fortunately, they didn’t understand English, though they became duly suspicious of the new highly anemic-looking tourists at Plymouth, especially when the newbies used a complex of sweeping hand gestures to indicate something akin to “Everything we swoop our hands over immediately becomes ours.” The local Native Americans – who sported tattoos and very hip straight-up spiked hairdos – responded with a simple middle finger gesture unfamiliar to the Puritans -- but one that would not only persevere but also flourish into modern times.
“What meaneth the finger gestures these savages maketh toward us?”
“Lord, me thinketh it beith their way of giving us a hearty thumbs up.”
“Goodeth. Leteth us then returneth the finger gesture in good steed.”
Just imagine that energetic finger-exchanging scene taking place in the middle of a just-plowed field. First all the Indians make the gesture, a few of them throwing in slaps to the crooks of their fingering arms, and then all the Puritans return it with vigor -- back and forth, for who knows how long. What a historically symbolic sight. Where’s a video cam when you need one?
Anyway, the settlers at Plymouth had a super good crop in 1621, due in large part to the Wampanoag, who convinced the tourists that it might be best to plant more than just one corn kernel a year. The bumper crop sparked a spontaneous celebration by the Puritans, mainly as a religious thing. The Native Americans were invited in hopes they’d bring some kick-ass tobacco -- and clean up after the feast.
It’s the entrees tabled at the first feast where the fishiness comes in.
The aforementioned letter (1621) talked of four of the Puritans best hunters being sent out to bag game – and invite any other Wampanoag they saw, after exchanging finger gestures. The hunters came back with something the letter writer blanket-termed “fowl.” However, reading into the writings, there is no per se mentioning of turkey, a bird that was hot stuff even back then. In fact, it sure sounded like the “fowl” were smallish, i.e. ducks, pheasants, partridges and a pear tree or two.
Reality: Odds are that no turkey ever hit the table back-when. However, per the letter -- and confirmed through scales found by archeologists – one of the main gala entrées was “bass,” as in striped bass. In other words, the first Thanksgiving turkey was actually a striped bass – possibly carved to look like a turkey (or not).
Short of the effects of old age, there’s no guessing why history remembers some things and all but forget others. However, with the slightest twist of historic fancy, striped bass would be the pièce de résistance at Thanksgiving dinners. I might mention that it is still a bit of a coastal custom to include some just-caught striper when loading a table for Thanksgiving.
Odd but historically significant angle on those first Thanksgivings: Per my inside historic contacts, massive lobsters – five feet long, believe it or not – were also served. These massive crustaceans had claws the size of the earliest colonial Everlast boxing gloves.
Sorrowfully, at the third or fourth Thanksgiving shindig, a group of tipsy Puritan men thought it would be intensely comical to place cleaned out monster lobster claws over their hands and pretend to bite the visiting Wampanoag chief. When the English jokesters awoke the next day with splitting headaches, they got word that one or two of them had, in fact, actually bitten the chief, leading to Black Friday -- and, eventually, the little-known Puritan/Indian Bitten Chief Lobster Claw War. But that saga is for another less celebratory column.
Have a great Thanksgiving – and, in the name of history, include some striped bass.
ARE WE SINKING?: I had mentioned some serious road flooding last week and got the typical “Is that a sign of global warning?” e-questions.
What was kinda odd was the way I covertly began wondering whether LBI’s frequent flash flooding is, in fact, beginning to run a bit rampant.
To that point, I had been a gnarly naysayer when it comes to our ability to accurately translate global warming into measurable sea-rise. Face it, rapid ice cap melt is now in its 20th year but oceanic gauges around the planet have not unilaterally shown any sea rise. And you cannot take some sea level bump-ups at a couple planetary locations and allege, “These ports are showing the sea rise first.” Absurd. Logic dictates that oceans rise at once, everywhere. They ain’t.
That said, I have to admit that I can’t recall Island towns needing to keep “Road Flooding” barrels and barriers constantly at the ready, stored on shoulders of roads, year’ round. In fact, I know of a couple instant-lake locales that could use them.
But are these fast flood tendencies rooted to glacial melts? Science has to shake its head “No.” Again, bridge and pier gauges are showing no protracted water rise. Blimps here and there, but nothing sustained.
Could our hair-trigger flooding be the result of larger storms spurred on by climate change? That’s well within the rainy realm of reason.
Now, just beyond the kingdom of clear reason is an odd thought I have: LBI might be sinking.
It’s not as outlandish as you might think, based on similar sinkings in other coastal communities.
When barrier islands can’t migrate west, as is the case with LBI, they can actually sink – via a form of sand settling brought on by gravity. The once light and airy sands of a young barrier LBI have gotten highly compressed over time. Add the weight of buildings along with tons of traffic and the Island’s topside weight has likely reached the highly compressible sedge matter lying far beneath many municipalities. What’s more, the entire length of Long Beach Boulevard follows low-lying geography. Any sinkage would surely show there first.
I kinda think we have to face it, be it sinkage or meltage, we’re going to be seeing road flooding for many decades to come – right through to 2100, when even I have to agree with scientists that the really ugly impacts of sea rise will flood in.
So, shall we begin to abandon LBI? Screw you. My thinking: let’s make every effort to keep it above water as long as we possibly can – and party like its 2099.
POOR SHARKS, RICH CHINESE: There’s an odd and odious ecological angle to our buying everything, including the kitchen sink, from China. It’s leading to the slaughter of sharks around the world. Seriously.
The despicable practice of finning, cutting just the dorsal and pectoral fins off sharks, continues around the world, despite universal outrage.
The disembodied fins are used to flavor Chinese shark fin soup, the Asian “soup of royalty.”
While shark finning took a hit a few years back, as international conservation groups jarred reluctant regulatory groups into going after violators, the roiled waters of public disapproval barely rocked the boats of black marketeers. Commercial fishermen continue to pirate the world’s sharks, hot on the tails – make that fins -- of a seafood product that easily brings $100 a pound in the alleyways of Hong Kong, where virtually all the illicit shark fin trade takes place. Making matters tougher for enforcement is the fact that some types of sharks can be caught and sold legally
A recently published interview with Yale Environment 360 shark conservationist Sonja Fordham could refuel the shark finning issue. Fordham estimates that 26 to 73 million sharks are still being killed annually. The wide range of that estimate is due to the covert killing and fining of sharks bound for the black market. Obviously, no numbers are kept by criminal shark killers.
Fordham explained that the surging Chinese economy, and that nation’s toying with what amounts to capitalistic socialism, has swelled the wallets and purses of a people previously forbidden from accruing liquid assets. And one of the liquids high on the must-have list of the growingly moneyed Chinese hoi polloi is shark fin soup. Where it was once the appetizer of aristocratic weddings and upper echelon affairs, it is now served at what might be called everyday weddings – and China is hardly lacking in everyday weddings.
“Shark fin soup is a traditional celebratory dish, a Chinese delicacy. It used to be reserved for royalty and very high levels of society. There obviously has been a boom in the Chinese economy, where more and more people can afford to serve it at their banquets or weddings. It's a very traditional dish, and these kind of attitudes are not changing overnight,” said Fordham.
Oddly, shark fins, which are frozen or dried before preparation, have virtually no flavor of their own. The appeal seemingly comes from the look and texture of the fins in the soup, after they’ve absorbed flavors of other ingredients. Adding teeth to the reputation of shark fin soup are the fully disproved beliefs that the soup acts as an aphrodisiac and doubles as a cancer treatment and preventative.
Making matters way worse for the planet’s sharks, other heavily peopled Asian nations have taken to the taste and tradition swirling within shark fin soup. What’s more, the costly broth now also serves as a symbol of financial success, sans wedding associations.
The most sought after fins are those cut from tiger, mako, sandbar, bull, hammerhead, blacktip, porbeagle, blue, and thresher sharks. The creme de la crème of the shark fin soup crop is sawfish. Finning and rostrum collecting of sawfish have driven this most amazing of fish species to the brink of extinction. International trade in sawfish is banned worldwide. A single black-market sawfish is worth thousands of dollars. In poorer countries, it’s so valuable it’s referred to as a “retirement fish,” for a fisherman lucky enough to nab a large one.
When I was an assistant chef in a Waikiki hotel, I was taught how to make shark fin soup, almost always for visiting newly weds from China. What a frickin’ pain to prepare. The damn dried fins had to be re-hydrated in lukewarm water for well over a day. The hotel’s Chinese head chef did the many-hour cleaning/preparation process that followed. He even tried to show me the traditional tricks to getting perfectly formed “needles” out of the prepared fins. Those “needles” describe the much-desired hand-fan shape of prepared shark fin solids. I would just look at the insanely complicated procedure and smile, longingly wondered how the surf was breaking on the North Shore.
I will admit the shark fin soup was delectable. However, even back then (circa 1975), I said, “What do you even need the shark fins for? This broth is what’s incredible.”
Regardless of what you think of the mean in gray suits (the cool nickname given to sharks in Australia), sharks are such an integral part of the marine ecosystem that their loss would leads to a catastrophic collapse of the entire marine realm. Public support to stop finning is desperately needed. A good start is checking out www.stopsharkfinning.net, or, Google “Humane Society shark.”
RUNDOWN: If you check out the LBI Surf Fishing Classic info at lbift.com, you’ll see that we had a couple fairly wild and wooly bass and bluefish sessions since last I columnized. Even I had some fine fishing – though I keep kinda quiet on my own angling actions this time of year.
The cool angle of the two-day (Friday, Saturday) heavy-hooking bouts was the way it included stripering success via plugs, chunk baits, snag-and-drop bunkering and live-lining eels and spot. The epicenter seemed to be slightly north of mid-Island but there were also very major fish taken to the south.
Here’s a great e-read that catches the mood of the day:
“Pretty Productive day in Brant Beach. I fished pretty much from 7am-5pm (after plugging for several hours, 3-7am in Barnegat Light/Brighton Beach with zero to show)...It was a beautiful day to be on the beach, regardless of the fishing...Non-stop action for most of the day, along with consistent bunker pods getting crashed by blues/bass. When I first arrived, the bass (I would guess 30lb class) were jumping clear out of the water after the bunker. I caught a 16/10 (37") bass around 7:45 on a freshly snagged bunker chunk. I caught another bass later around 2pm ... My Boga had this one a little heavier (17lbs) but was shorter at 35". I had another bass of similar size jump out of the water and spit the hook 5 feet away from me in the shore break after a decent fight. I also had another, larger bass on for about 10 minutes before another pulled hook. Throughout the day I also caught 7 blues, all between 10-12lbs/30-31.5 inches, all on bunker chunks...I had 2 bite-offs as well...The bite went dead around 3pm ... Jim.”
As with all good bites, it ended – damn near on a dime. Still the fun was had and the possibility of more bass blasts remains fully in place, with masses of stripers still to our north.
Here’s my blog (http::/jaymanntoday.ning.com) for the day after: “(The bassing) all but skid to a stop today (Sunday). A few surf stripers were tabulated but the number of folks languishing in Skunkland was pretty significant. Of course, when you’re on a trophy bass role the way Joe Kovacs is, it doesn’t matter what the pack is doing – or not doing. Today, Joe weighed in a 30-13. That sure sits nicely with his 51-16 from Nov. 4.”
By the by, despite some better and bigger bass caught during the blitzes, the 20-pound range was ultra-common. One wonders if the annual schoolie bass biomass is now grown beyond the 28-inch keeper zone. That could make for some hot hooking come December.
LOSE SOMETHING?: Email: “Jay, While reeling up line Saturday to check to see if my hook was still baited, I noticed that I was also reeling up someone else's line. Oddly, there was no one fishing within a hundred yards of me. So I began hauling in the line by hand. Low and behold out of the depths came an entire rod, reel and terminal gear. Unfortunately, there was no trophy bass on the end of it! At one time there probably was as this unfortunate soul lamented, I imagine. Anyway, maybe this downtrodden fisherman will read your column and contact you. Please contact me and I will gladly arrange for him (or her) to retrieve the gear if the information is correct.
(You can contact Paul through me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)