CARL SAFINA: On this edition of Saving the Ocean,
we're going out with some of the last swordfish harpooners.
SAFINA: We'll experience the thrill of the hunt...
HOSS ATWOOD: There you go!
SAFINA: And the satisfaction of landing the prize.
We'll also see why this is the most sustainable fishery around.
A-plus-- going in the big vat.
SAFINA: And how swordfish are the world's best large fish
I'm Carl Safina.
Join me now for "Swordfish."
Majo Hi, I'm Carl Safina.
No matter where I travel, I always return here
to walk, feel the seasons change.
I've been coming here since I was a kid.
Now I'm a marine biologist and I write books about the ocean--
that magic, majestic two-thirds of the planet
that starts right there in the surf.
In my travels I see pollution,
overfishing, coral reefs in trouble.
But I also meet inspiring people working to solve problems.
In this series, we visit people with solutions,
and places getting better.
So I hope you'll join me in these journeys.
It's all about Saving the Ocean.
Beautiful boat, beautiful boat.
We're leaving one of southern Nova Scotia's tiny harbors.
The plan is to be out swordfishing for a week--
a routine trip.
Not that offshore fishing is ever routine,
nor are the goodbyes.
Larry, the skipper, picks his way along the channels
he's known since boyhood.
Hey, Larry, how many hours do we have to steam now
and how far from shore are we headed?
And the first stop is a part called the Gully?
Is that right?
So all the little bits of the edge of the Georges Bank,
they all have different names,
they're like different neighborhoods.
SAFINA: We're heading for the canyons
along the edge of Georges Bank,
a relatively shallow 8,000-square-mile area
that, in spite of some overfishing,
is one of the world's richest fishing grounds.
Ocean currents sweep deep, cold, nutrient-rich water
up onto the warm bank,
and that leads to an explosion of sea life.
Animals travel thousands of miles to feed here in summer--
whales, tuna, sharks and swordfish.
We're going out with these guys who will be swordfishing.
We will be killing some swordfish, that's what they do,
but the story is about how swordfish are more abundant now
than they were ten years ago.
There have been a lot of problems in the northeast part
of the U.S. and Atlantic Canada, a lot of overfishing,
the collapse of cod that we've all heard about.
But we can get the fish back, there are people doing it right
and that's what we're going to see.
This looks like a really well-stocked galley.
What do you have for us?
SAFINA: Hoss runs the ship's galley, and we won't be going hungry.
We got the chips and stuff that's behind you.
The bars is behind you.
Cakes, chips, bars, okay.
And in here is like Ritz crackers and whatever.
I'll show you what's in the fridge.
HOSS: There's your eggs.
Well, there's not much room left in this fridge.
Up in here you got your fries and your hot dogs
and your bologna.
Down the bottom is pork steak and pork chops.
Frozen haddock on Georges Bank.
This one here has got all your chocolate milk
and your milkshakes and stuff.
It's not a weight-watching cruise, is it?
No, not really.
As you can tell, you don't lose weight.
SAFINA: Ten hours to go.
We'll be on Georges by morning.
And here we are.
This is the swordfish grounds.
We have around us maybe about a dozen other boats
and it's really quite something
because there's nothing but water as far as you can see
for all of these miles.
We're about 120 miles offshore now
and as soon as we got to this spot, we had a lot of company.
Larry walks out onto what they call the "stand"
to set up the fishing gear.
These guys are the last of a breed.
They stalk the swordfish and then harpoon them by hand.
Only about a hundred boats still do this regularly,
all from southern Nova Scotia.
Everyone else catches swordfish using 25-mile longlines
with a thousand baited hooks.
The harpooners catch fish one at a time... if they're lucky.
There's a line that runs from the harpoon head
back here to a string of weights and floats.
It's always set up in the same precise way.
Shawn's responsible for getting
everything on the aft deck ready.
Larry has let us attach our small harpoon cam
to his harpoon.
It's a risk for him, of course,
because small changes can easily throw things off.
It's everybody's job to look for swordfish.
Shawn and Hoss are going to spend most of the day
up in the mast, and they're prepared.
So what do you have in your pockets?
There's my pop and my cakes is in my pocket
so we don't have to come down all the time to eat.
So, it's a big ocean.
How do you find a swordfish?
What are you looking for?
Just keep looking.
Just look for two fins.
You're looking for fins?
What about, do you ever see them underwater
where they're not showing?
Sometimes, you'll look down in, you'll see 'em.
Some show a light purple, some show a blue.
SAFINA: On Georges Bank for a couple of months in summer,
swordfish like to spend time hanging out on the surface.
They're probably warming up
after hunting in the cool depths,
and that's when the harpoon boats get their chance.
Now it's time to stay focused and concentrate.
Georges Bank is filled with life,
and the spotters get to know what to ignore,
like a couple of pilot whales.
We're looking for small, dark fins just breaking the surface.
11:00, about 200 yards.
It's just there and then it goes.
So we'll keep watching, just see... just see what it is.
What is that, Shawn?
Sunfish, isn't it?
Right over here about 50 yards, Shawn.
SAFINA: A big, 200-pound sunfish just ambling along.
Here it is right here, look, Larry, here he is right there.
About 50, 100 yards.
Yeah, right there, yeah.
Take your time.
Take your time, Hoss.
Bring down, go down, yeah.
Take your time, this big chop, it's gonna be hard.
SAFINA: Hoss has to steer the boat
to place Larry right on top of the fish.
HOSS: There you go.
Yeah, got him.
SAFINA: We've only been at this about ten minutes.
Swordfish on the surface.
They made a perfect approach.
They obviously know what they're doing.
And they struck it.
HOSS: There he is right here, look, Larry.
50, 100 yards.
LARRY: Bring down, go down, yeah.
HOSS: There you go!
LARRY: Yeah, got him.
SAFINA: Now Larry and Shawn have to hurry back to the aft deck.
The fish is on the line,
but with its long sword it's too dangerous to haul in.
Anyway, before the fish tires out,
it would probably just pull the small harpoon head free.
Instead they're going to let the fish pull the string of floats
and the high flyer until it's exhausted.
It's not fun for the fish, but then no fishing is.
We'll pull the fish in later.
Right there, I see it.
HOSS: How do you want me go on him?
LARRY: Start swinging around.
SAFINA: The good thing about harpoon swordfishing
is that you kill just swordfish-- no sharks,
no turtles, no seabirds, no immature fish.
HOSS: There you go!
LARRY: Hit it... he's hit in the backbone.
HOSS: In the backbone?
SAFINA: Larry's backbone shot may not be deep enough
for the harpoon head to stay in.
We'll see later.
By mid-afternoon, we've come up on only our third fish.
This is definitely not an easy way to make a living.
LARRY: Yeah, get around him.
SAFINA: This shot will take all Larry's skill.
The fish is several feet underwater.
HOSS: There you go!
That was a bigger fish, yeah.
SAFINA: That fish was underwater.
Did not have his fins out.
I didn't even see it until we were almost over it
and the stand was almost past it.
He got a straight shot at it.
It was quite a sizeable fish.
Late afternoon, and it's time to see what we got.
First up, the fish Larry thought he'd hit in the backbone.
HOSS: This is the backbone one, I think.
LARRY: I don't think it's on there.
SAFINA: The guys may be faced with losing
a third of their day's catch.
Some strain on it.
It may come out if the dart didn't get in deep enough.
Want to try this?
I don't feel much.
I don't feel much on it.
SAFINA: There's 600 feet of line to gently pull in.
It feels light.
It feels like there's no fish on it.
I shouldn't be hauling it this easy.
Nothing on it.
Fish is gone.
SAFINA: Now the fish we found first thing this morning.
HOSS: Bigger fish than what I thought it was.
LARRY: Yeah, I didn't think it was very big.
SAFINA: They're pleasantly surprised at the size.
It's a bit under 200 pounds.
And there's another surprise.
His sword broke off, didn't it?
Yeah, his sword's chewed off.
SAFINA: The fish's three-foot-long sword is missing.
Some fishermen believe that mako sharks bite off swords,
but I don't think a shark would risk
going for the sharp end of the fish.
Swordfish ram things.
They ram sea turtles, they ram pieces of wood, they ram boats.
Makos do attack swordfish,
but I doubt that they would attack the bill.
They do bite their tails off.
Hoss agrees with me about that.
They come up from behind 'em, take the tail right off of them.
SAFINA: Now the third fish we found today.
This is a lot bigger fish.
Oh yeah, lot bigger.
He'll make two of that one.
I'd say it's well over 200 pound.
There he is coming there now.
SAFINA: Larry's terrific underwater shot
got a great 300-pound fish.
The largest ever caught was over a thousand pounds,
but two to three hundred is average.
Swordfish are doing well-- we'll talk about why later.
Year to year, fishermen are seeing bigger fish,
always a sign that there's not too much fishing pressure.
The harpoon boats aim to bring in top-quality fish...
How am I doing?
SAFINA: ...so they ice the catch quickly,
and they stay out just a few days.
SAFINA: While Hoss and Shawn store the fish,
I check out the parts we're not taking home.
This fish has been eating plenty of squid,
and silver hake, and then these other, longer fish.
It's a little hard to see what these were exactly.
So that's what they eat before we eat them.
You ready for him, Shawn?
SAFINA: To my mind, swordfish harpooning is the perfect fishery.
Nothing else is killed, the fish are plentiful,
and the boats take great care
to get the catch home in good shape.
This could be sustained forever,
so long as we take the broad view.
One thing this shows is if we want to have swordfish,
we have to have something for them to eat.
So while people also eat squid, and people also eat silver hake,
actually which is sold as whiting,
if we take all of them, there's nothing for the bigger fish.
So, you know, when we think about our fisheries,
we think about what can we catch,
how much of it can we catch--
it shouldn't be based on just how many squid
can we possibly take out of the ocean
for there to be just a few squid left to breed more squid.
We have to have enough squid to feed the swordfish
if we also want there to be swordfish.
As our second day dawns, we have an important visitor.
It's Dale Richardson,
president of the Nova Scotia Swordfish Harpoon Association.
SAFINA: Dale's a harpooner himself.
Okay, you're our first catch of the morning.
I remember when swordfish were really depleted
and I've talked to a lot of old guys who say
that there used to be a lot of swordfish.
Then it seemed like it went through a period
of real scarcity.
What's happening now?
Well, science and everything else is telling us today
that our swordfish stocks are back in a healthy state
and are sustainable to the future.
Why do you think they have recovered
since almost all the other fish that we hear about
are still way down?
I guess it's testament to their resilience as a stock.
We've also learned to manage them better, I guess.
NEWSREEL NARRATOR: Cruising in waters where the big fellows abound,
to the deep sea fishermen
it's a playground off the coast of Nova Scotia.
SAFINA: At one time, all swordfish caught
off the U.S. and Canadian east coast were harpooned.
NEWSREEL NARRATOR: In the hands of a sharp shooter, the harpoon is deadly.
To penetrate the tough, scaly hide of this streamlined monster
is one trick...
SAFINA: Swordfish were harpooned from the boat,
then picked up in the dory.
NEWSREEL NARRATOR: And when Old Salty takes up the trail, his doom is sealed.
SAFINA: But now 90% of the swordfish catch is with nets or longlines.
U.S. harpooning is almost gone,
and in Canada it's only Dale's association left.
NEWSREEL NARRATOR: A savage monster of the deep is tamed,
and when you've tamed him, you've been fishing.
RICHARDSON: There's no more primitive way
to harvest a fish than one man on the end of a stand
with a harpoon in hand.
We have to see the fish,
we interact very little with other species--
we have no bycatch--
because you have to see what you're throwing the harpoon at.
Yes, so you don't kill anything else.
You could have sharks in the area, dolphins in the area,
sunfish in the area.
Nets or longlines can catch those things
and can catch sea turtles, too.
So that's a big difference.
RICHARDSON: They always have their bycatch issues.
The more aggressive type of fishery you have,
the more bycatch issues you have.
SAFINA: Swordfish are long-distance travelers.
We know this because Larry, our skipper,
used his harpooning skills to stick satellite-tracking tags
in fish for Canadian scientists.
Fish spawn down south in winter, then feed up north in summer.
They were in trouble in the 1980s,
but then three things happened.
Conservationists persuaded the U.S. government to ban fishing
for juvenile fish off Florida.
Consumer groups organized a boycott that reduced demand.
And international catch quotas were successfully enforced.
Swordfish grow fast, so Dale and his group are still fishing.
Do you go swordfishing because you can make money swordfishing
compared to lobstering, or do you go swordfishing
because you really love swordfishing?
I guess when I started,
the thought was we were gonna make lots of money,
but it's developed into a love thing, I think.
We try and make as much out of it as possible--
it only makes sense if you're going to catch a product
to use it to the fullest--
but in reality we don't make a whole lot of money.
Some years we make some, some years we don't.
So what do you love about it?
You come out here, you drive around all day,
you have to really keep your attention up for 12 hours.
Some people might think that that's not their definition
of an easy day's work or a good time.
What do you love about it?
You know, it's exciting just to see them
and then, of course, the hunt is on
to try and outsmart the fish, the weather conditions, and...
I presume it's the hunting instinct.
Well, I'm a fisherman and a wildlife lover
and a conservationist, and I have to say
that the part of me that is a fisherman
shares the thrill that you feel about seeing these fish,
and the part of me that's a conservationist also thinks
that it's a good fishery because it's clean and it is sustainable
and it is coming back.
We're back to our routine.
It's hard to do, but you have to stay completely alert.
It's two hours before Hoss thinks he sees something.
Larry, just go up this way, up this way.
Whatever it is, it looks good,
it's staying right up on top of the water the whole time.
Okay, up there about, it just is gone, just cut under there.
Here it goes there now.
SAFINA: It's incredibly hard to pick out nine inches of dark fin
in the haze and choppy surface.
HOSS: There he is.
He's out here.
You see him?
I know, I gotta get up here, Larry.
Look right off here, 1:00, about 50 yards.
LARRY: Yeah, I see him, gotta stay outside of him.
Go right on him?
Go out here.
Okay, he's settling.
Take your time.
HOSS: Yeah, I know, but he's settling, Larry.
I can hardly see him now.
Go in, go in.
Just take your time.
SAFINA: Success is all about coordination.
Larry, Hoss and Shawn have been harpooning together
for 20 years.
LARRY: He's swimming hard.
SAFINA: Even though they know each other's moves by heart,
they still talk anyway.
HOSS: There you go.
LARRY: That did him good.
SAFINA: A perfect hit.
And then the day got better when we were joined
by a herd of frolicking dolphins.
They're on the rich Georges Bank for the same reason we are--
to catch fish.
They're better at fishing than us,
so they can afford to take time off to enjoy themselves.
There he is right there.
LARRY: Okay, go after him then.
Where is he?
Right over here, look.
I can go right down on him if you want me, too.
No, go outside.
Stay outside and go in on him?
You sing out when you want me to come around on him.
Gotta go way up here.
Gotta go up ahead.
Go up ahead of him and then come down on him?
Yeah, you gotta stay out here.
Okay, start swinging her in.
Okay, be ready.
Okay, take your time.
You get ready.
I'll put you where the fish is.
Speed her up.
SAFINA: It's strange that the fish are never bothered
by our looming and noisy presence.
SAFINA: Larry misses his shot.
HOSS: Keep watch, see if he goes down deep or not.
SAFINA: We came up on that fish and it was a clean miss.
Larry just didn't get the dart in the fish.
We'll know the next time I'll try not to change my mind.
SAFINA: Then an amazing thing happened.
SAFINA: The same fish came back up.
LARRY: Okay, right here, Hoss.
He's up good, okay.
Take your time.
Gotta go way around him now.
Take your time, you've got to wait, you've got to wait.
There he is over here.
Go right on him now?
LARRY: Swing her in slow.
Take her in slow.
There you go!
LARRY: In his friggin' backbone.
You hit him in the backbone?
Think so, yeah.
SAFINA: It's another backbone hit, so they may lose it.
The fish didn't spook and disappear.
Didn't spook, no.
It just went off a little ways and came back up again.
Gave you a second shot at it.
Did you get a shot that you were satisfied with or not so good?
SAFINA: In our next episode,
we conclude the story of Larry and his crew.
I'll try my hand at delicately hauling in that fish
that came around a second time,
and we all get fooled by a classic harpoon-fleet joke--
a wooden fish.
When the weather turns bad,
Larry misses his shots, and lines keep getting caught
on our harpoon cam.
But we still get fish,
and we head back to port with a catch
that the fish buyers are eager to take.
I'm Carl Safina.
Please join me next time on Saving the Ocean
for the conclusion of "Swordfish."
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