Photo: One man. One fish. One arrow.

Dwaine d’Eon lining up a harpoon shot on a swordfish. (Credit:

Guest post from Small Scales blog, Contribution by Matt Rigney.

The story of Canadian swordfishing in the North Atlantic, and especially of the remaining harpooners who practice a method of harvest that dates back more than three thousand years, provides a drama in microcosm of the problems and challenges of every modern fishery I can think of. The dynamics are the same whether one looks at the bluefin tuna fisheries in Japan, South Australia, and the Mediterranean, or at the struggle for access to resources in Mexico's Sea of Cortez.

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The forces at play include all those we have come to expect in any situation where natural resources and profits are at stake. They include greed, corruption, malfeasance, and negligence as well as the politics of resource management for profit in a world where technologies give us the power nearly of gods — to see into the depths of the ocean, to track temperature breaks and currents from space, and to manipulate industrial gear powerful enough to move boulders the size of small houses, dropped on the ocean floor by glaciers, or to annihilate slow-reproducing species like leatherback sea turtles and porbeagle sharks by means of a single longline filament suspended under the surface of the sea, again and again, year after year, mile after mile after mile.

And while there are real culprits — individual men and women in corporations, private business, and in government—who bear personal, moral responsibility for their role in knowingly damaging resources and stocks, sometimes beyond repair, there is also another, equally pervasive villain in the story of fisheries management in the last fifty years. That culprit is a cultural mindset based on the profoundest ignorance — the failure of our entire society to understand and accept that natural systems have limits. This, paired with our blind and willful faith in the application of technology to always give us a better life amount to failures of the imagination, and perhaps even more damningly, to profound failures of the spirit.

Please enjoy a short excerpt from Rigney's excellent book, In Pursuit of Giants:

It is nine in the morning and we are a hundred miles at sea, directly south of the southernmost tip of Nova Scotia, 225 miles due east of the elbow of Cape Cod. After a breakfast of eggs, bacon, potatoes, bread slathered with margarine, tea and instant coffee, we layer ourselves against the chill and come up topside. The wind in our faces is heavy with moisture but there is as yet no fog, and the sky overhead has the appearance of dirty gray wool. I am fishing with the crew of the harpoon boat Brittany & Brothers, out of Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia. The harpoon stand, suspended like an aluminum drawbridge, runs eighteen feet out from the bow and plunges down into the troughs, then swings up fifteen or twenty feet in the air as we climb the next wave. The swells are between six and eight feet, the wind moderate at twelve knots. I take a spot on the foredeck, leaning against the welded ladder running up the spotting tower. As the whole ship rocks, the tower swings violently back and forth like the bar on a metronome. Fifteen feet above that is the high spotting post. Saul Newell, the captain, is up there getting his ass kicked. Dwaine D'Eon, the harpooner, and Saul's father, Gabby Newell, are in the steering station. We are looking for the crescent-shaped fins of the broadbill swordfish.

Read a longer excerpt at the Small Scales blog.

Matt Rigney has been fishing New England fresh and saltwater for nearly 40 years, 25 of those off the coast of Kennebunkport, Maine. In Pursuit of Giants: One Man's Global Search for the Last of the Great Fish" is the story of his five-year, 75,000-mile round-the-world journey to encounter the great fish of the sea-marlin, bluefin tuna, and swordfish-and to tell the story of their decline in the past 50 years. "In Pursuit of Giants" was nominated for a 2013 Massachusetts Book Award in Nonfiction. To watch a short trailer about the book, or to purchase it, visit

September 24, 2013

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