Fish for Thought

A friend of mine who lives in the Caribbean had a long lasting friendship with an old, scarred dolphin. They met at the end of the dock, at sunset.

Story and Photos by Icarus Blake – icarus@citizenbrooklyn.com

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I spent my summers in the hills behind a small fishing village on the Northern Italian coast. Fish were my playmates. I lived underwater for most of the three summer months. Fish would come and eat off my hands. They would swim with me and nibble at my feet. Fish would scare me when they were too big and would swim right at me. Fish were colorful and made rainbows underwater. Fish were beautiful and plenty.

The local lifeguard insisted that I learn how to catch an octopus. I caught a big one and took it home in a bucket full of sea water. I kept it for a month inside an old aquarium. I fed the octopus every day: small crabs, clams … My mother told me he knew when I was coming home because he would start a weird dance. I knew he listened to me when I spoke to him. He would let me touch him on his head: to me that was play. After he recovered from his wound, I let him free. After that summer, I never fished again.

Istanbul Fish Market photo©Icarus Blake

Years later, I met Sylvia Earle, the oceanographer. She spoke fondly of grouper and how they would let her pet them. She said they were like dogs: friendly. I believed her.

A friend of mine who lives in the Caribbean had a long lasting friendship with an old, scarred dolphin. They met at the end of the dock, at sunset. They talked to each other and, I swear, the dolphin understood. He whistled in excitement and turned sideways to listen and look at my friend when he talked to him.

The dolphin was recently killed by a powerboat that was speeding too close to the shore.

Istanbul Fish Market photo©Icarus Blake

Then the fish began to disappear. I went to visit a friend and went snorkeling with him in my childhood waters. It was all gray, murky, and with very little fish. What had happened to the “Big Blue”? I was told stories about the water getting warmer causing the invasion of some dangerous red algae that would deplete the water of oxygen and throw the fish out of balance.

During a short trip to Miami Beach, I could hardly swim as the water was infested by unusual amounts of large jelly fish. The local lifeguard told me the fishermen were bitching because the jellyfish would clog their nets. He said fishing was bad as it was without the added aggravation of the jelly fish. He said he had no clue of why this was happening, maybe climate change?

Istanbul Fish Market photo©Icarus Blake

Another friend lives on Haida Gwaii, a small group of islands off the coast of British Columbia. Salmon fishing is a big industry over there. He told me salmon cannot find the rivers to go upstream and lay eggs anymore. It gets confused by the unusual temperature shifts of the currents and by the environmental pollution of the water. The local salmon industry is in shambles.

A couple of years ago, I crossed the Pacific on a sail boat. The only other boats we encountered were Japanese fishing boats trailing miles of fishing lines. The water was unusually warm all across. One day we were as far from land as a human can be on earth and we decided to go for a swim and check the keel for damage. We were in the water for a good thirty minutes and no fish came to check us out. Aside from some schools of flying fish, we saw very little marine life.

Istanbul Fish Market photo©Icarus Blake

We touched land in Samoa and went to the fish market early the next morning.  A plaque at the entrance of the market commemorated the renovation of the fisheries by the Japanese Government as a token of friendship between the two nations.  A local fisherman told me that Samoa had sold the fishing rights of its waters to Japan. He said Japan was aggressively overfishing the Pacific and it was kind of funny that they would first improve the local fisheries, and then deplete the local waters of fish. More like tragic. Samoans are good people and tend to laugh a lot. We did not see many smiles at the fisheries that morning.

These are simple facts. I’m not going to point fingers or give you an environmental lecture.

Just fish for thought.

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