The author gives a very informative and readable account of the swordfish for those of us who like fish and fishing; and also for those who enjoy reading of the fascinating life that goes on in our oceans. Dana Gibson has done a good bit of research on his subject, as well as drawing from his own experiences. His association with the commercial swordfishery occurred during the 1970s when he owned and operated the JOHN DEWOLF II, a longline vessel based out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. He gained much practical knowledge while swordfishing from this boat, fishing the offshore grounds stretching from the Canadian banks to the straits of Florida. He mentions some of the earliest reports of swordfish taken in American waters. The first given is an account by a John Josselyn, published in London in 1674, who wrote of the “great fish with a sword that pierced their ship!” Xiphias gladius, as this fish is classified, seems to be aptly named. It is also described in Gibson’s book as “nature’s submarine”: “they are U-boats and torpedoes combined — self-directed and self-propelled.”
The author also writes of the earlier days, when only harpooning was done, with its attendant sport and danger. Harpooning is still done, but when engines took over from sail, swordfishing became more productive due to easier maneuvering and speedier trips, and later, even more so with the beginning and use of longline, which consists of a floating buoyed line with many hooks attached.
There are fine explanations, pictures and diagrams of different fishing methods. Gibson tells about currents and temperatures and records of catches from different areas and fishing grounds; about the Canadian swordfishery and the Japanese longline fishing and the range of the broadbill swordfish, and about the kinds of bait used and preferred. He tells of Georges Bank and the Grand Banks and efforts and results in the Caribbean and southern waters. He writes about the earliest boats with record catches that became “pied pipers” (although unwillingly) and were followed by other boats to learn their fishing spots and methods. The book mentions other fish too, and how some are now on the “slippery slope of survival.” The ups and downs of swordfishing and the mercury scare are part of the story, as are the enemies of the adult swordfish, one being the tiny cookie-cutter shark, so called because it makes tiny crescent-shaped bites. I particularly enjoyed seeing the pictures of the various stages of baby swordfish.
My grandfather Spurling, as a young man, went mackerel seining with a group of men from our Cranberry Isles. He would tell of their encounters with swordfish and their ferocity, at times directed toward the vessel’s dories when the men were at work. I have a sword taken from one of these fish, complete with a fine hand-whittled mahogany hilt. It was handed down to me from my grandparents and is now mounted on my parlor wall. I have engaged in several kinds of commercial fishing in these waters, and many years ago spent several winters off Florida’s east coast on a sport fishing boat taking out paying parties for sailfish, marlin, dolphin and other game fish. So I appreciated reading this well-written and valuable account of the broadbill swordfishery, and I recommend this book for both reading and keeping.
(Ted Spurling writes the regular “Cranberry Report” for Working Waterfront.)