The high seas are still as wild as any frontier town, Wall Street Journal writer Knecht (The Proving Ground, 2001) demonstrates in his story about a pursuit through the unpredictable waters of the Southern Ocean.
In August 2001, the Australian patrol boat Southern Supporter spotted an unidentified fishing vessel in its waters. When the patrol crept closer, its quarry made fast tracks toward Antarctica. Reasonably sure the vessel was poaching toothfish, more recently known as Chilean sea bass, the customs officials gave chase. Knecht relates this adventure as if he were one of the participants, then cannily cuts the action to Chile. In 1977, Los Angeles fish merchant Lee Lantz was visiting Valparaiso, searching for something new to sell his customers. He spied Patagonian toothfish, a heretofore non-commercial species that appealed to him because of its firm texture, white flesh and buttery fat content. The unappetizing name would have to go, though: Lantz rechristened it Chilean sea bass. At first he could only peddle it to the fish-finger industry, but in time, it became the darling of high-end restaurants. A market was born, writes Knecht, and another fishery depleted. He cuts back to the chase, providing gripping descriptions that beautifully capture what it’s like to battle 60-foot waves and 50-knot winds in a boat. Eventually, the patrol boat commandeered the fishing vessel with the aid of a private South African security force. (The court case tanked, however.) Knecht deftly brings into play such figures as fisheries biologists, big-time criminal seafood operators and chef Rick Moonen, whose signature dish was miso-glazed Chilean sea bass.
An exciting, cautionary tale of overfishing.