A Fish Tale

Projections have our oceans containing more plastic than fish, by weight, by the year 2050. A ridiculous amount of the plastic pollution I wrote about last week ends up in our oceans, where it gets caught up in massive swirling ocean currents called gyres.

Every word of this story is true, and apologies in advance for it being a bit long. Yeah, sure, it’s a fish story, but it’s a true fish story. I have witnesses who will vouch for me.

When I was 18 years old, my paternal grandparents took our family on a trip to Punta Mita, Mexico. One day during our time on the Pacific coast, I went deep sea fishing with my dad, younger brother, uncle and cousins. It was a stunningly beautiful day.

The conditions seemed good for some big game fishing. We started off by trolling for bonito, a medium-sized fish that is related to tuna. After hooking and landing three of them, the first mate rigged them up on lines with the hope of attracting marlin in the area. Our captain picked out a promising spot, and we waited.

And waited and waited and waited. Maybe the spot wasn’t so promising after all. One hour ticked by, then another. No action on the lines whatsoever.

I was anxious, because I was on-deck (pun). At the start of the day we picked an order, and I got to reel in the fourth fish hooked that day. As the minutes crept by, I started wondering if we should give up on the big game fish and just try to catch something for dinner. The first mate was next to me, looking bored himself. The silence between us was slightly awkward, driven by our language barrier. I found myself wishing I had taken Spanish in high school.

In a gracious effort to bridge the gap between us, the first mate reached in his pocket and pulled out two peso coins. He handed one to me and mimed a motion of flicking the coin overboard. When I figured out that he was inviting me to participate in a bit of superstition, I smiled and flicked my coin into the water.

Then he took his coin and cupped it in his hands, bringing it close to his mouth. I assume he whispered something over it, and then he set it on the top of his thumb. I watched him flick it, and the coin tumbled into the water as mine had moments before.

One second passes. Then two. Suddenly, one of the fishing lines burst to life with a loud “Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!”

We had hooked into a black marlin, and a big one at that. I grabbed the line and got to work. Lean back, reel forward. Lean back, reel forward. Adrenaline was pumping like you wouldn’t believe. I didn’t have time to reflect that our first mate apparently had a superpower.

Not long after hooking it, the marlin came flying out of the water about 100-yards away, tail-whipping across the surface of the water. I’ll never forget that sight. At that moment, I remember thinking, “this fish is mine.”

I fought the fish for 45 minutes. During that time, it almost stripped the entire line on my reel, but I managed to bring it back in. I was exhausted, but I could tell the fish was too. It was making fewer and fewer runs.

Then out of nowhere, the line went slack. I couldn’t believe it. I quickly reeled and felt no resistance. We soon realized that the marlin had cut the line with its bill. I was as frustrated as I had ever been – that fish was the one that got away.

I fumed for most of the rest of the expedition. My family members had a much better perspective, realizing how cool the whole experience had been, but I just wanted to grumble. On the trip back to the dock though, I did snap out of it. About a mile off shore, a pod of about 100 dolphins started to race alongside our boat. It was more dolphins than I had ever seen, and the sight was simply magical.

That was a long story, so I’ll make the actual point of this post quickly. Our oceans are amazing and teeming with life. Currently though, projections have our oceans containing more plastic than fish, by weight, by the year 2050. A ridiculous amount of the plastic pollution I wrote about last week ends up in our oceans, where it gets caught up in massive swirling ocean currents called gyres.

Not too far west from where I was fishing 14 years ago is the North Pacific Gyre. That gyre has aggregated a “smog” of plastic just below the surface that is believed to be bigger in area than the state of Texas. It has been called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”  The other gyres face the same plastic pollution problem.

As I said last week, I am not here to vilify plastic. But we should realize that plastic doesn’t go “away” when we throw it away. Far too much of it ends up in our oceans. So please please please – avoid plastic when you can, and recycle it when you can’t. If we don’t take care of our oceans, who will?

Comments