FISH DECKS: Seafarers of the North Atlantic by William McCloskey

FISH DECKS: Seafarers of the North Atlantic

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Having written fiction (Highliners, 1978) based on his experiences with the Alaskan fishing trade, McCloskey (Applied Physics/Johns Hopkins Univ.--retired) now tells of working aboard commercial vessels from New Bedford to the Barents Sea to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. It's a sometimes lifeless acount, covering a decade, but it's also both a social history of--and an ode to--the disappearing independent fisherman. Often out for several days, most commercial fishermen in the North Atlantic, McCloskey relates, pursue cod and flounder--two of the most unexciting fish to catch in the world, but among the most profitable. They fish day and night, enduring the bitter cold and ice and the drudgery of gutting thousands of fish by hand. Packing the haul on ice, the captains stay out (except in suddenly bad weather) until their quota is met (for cod, 14,000 lbs. weekly). They catch their fish by trawling: pulling a huge net through the water, either along the bottom or in mid-water; with seines dragged along the surface; or in ""gill nets,"" buoyed and set in the water like a spiderweb. The backbreaking, repetitive, wet and freezing work is offset, says McCloskey, only by the monotony of the lax periods between catches. As an avocation, he finds the work rewarding and romantic. He senses the pride the fisherman have in their skills, their boats, in their ancient profession. And he also recognizes their courage in the face of imminent dangers from the elements--and from financial disaster, which for most is never more than an empty net away. McCloskey addresses the problem of the deteriorating environment, and the recent laws limiting the use of waters and the size of the annual take--all of which imperil the fisherman's trade. His profound respect and concern are obvious--despite some spiritless writing.

Pub Date: May 21st, 1990
Publisher: Paragon