Warner's account of commercial crabbing in Chesapeake Bay, Beautiful Swimmers (1976), won a wide, devoted readership (and a...


DISTANT WATER: The Fate of the North Atlantic Fishermen

Warner's account of commercial crabbing in Chesapeake Bay, Beautiful Swimmers (1976), won a wide, devoted readership (and a Pulitzer). How many hearts gladden, however, at the thought of factory trawlers? Equipped with machinery to fillet and deep-freeze the edible portions of fish, and process the rest into fish meal; designed with a stern ramp (like whalers) to haul in massive loads; provided with nets that could trawl at any depth (not just on the surface or the bottom); large enough to travel to any part of the world (veritable ocean liners)--these leviathans suddenly appeared off Newfoundland and in other parts of the North Atlantic in the 1950s. . . from the Soviet Union, East and West Germany, Rumania, Spain, Portugal, France. They made unprecedented catches (and, yes, hastened the depletion of stocks); the new 200-mile national limits, adopted in the late 1970s, restricted their operations; and, as of now, yesterday's ""ultimate fishing machines"" are ""lumbering dinosaurs,"" on their way to extinction. It's that brief era in fishing history, and its unique way of seafaring life, that Warner has absorbingly documented. He sails aboard the ships: the ""Fishery Support Vessel"" Frithjof III, which supplies the West German factory-trawler fleet with everything from spare parts to human replacements; the Spanish pair trawlers Terra and Nova, capable between them of the world's largest ground trawl (""What a crime, with all the hunger in this world,"" says the winch operator, seeing the waste); and, for two exceptional chapters, the Soviet factory trawler Seliger, which has a new crew on every trip (and where the cabin doors are always kept shut). Supposing, Warner asked the captain, he had an outstanding crew: ""Would he not want to keep them?"" In an example of Soviet dialectics, the captain replied: "". . . perhaps the opposite is just as true. Have you considered that crews may work better when they don't know each other too well?"" En route, Warner has learned how the Russians borrowed the plans of the first, revolutionary British factory trawler--and ""with virtually no prior traditon of high seas fishing,"" launched a distant-water fleet. He also takes in the scene afloat (""How does an ocean freeze, right before your eyes?"") and ashore--ranking fishing ports (and fishermen of other nations) as the men themselves do. An obvious must for fanciers of fishing or seafaring--but also sure to please admirers of keen reporting and strong, plain writing.

Pub Date: April 8, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1983