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Hooked: Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish

by G. Bruce Knecht

Bruce Knecht, author of The Proving Ground, and writer for the Wall Street Journal, has taken on a great adventure tale that will make you think twice – if not many more times – about your culinary habits.  Hooked is a story about the Patagonian toothfish, known to us here in America as “Chilean Sea Bass.” 

It is the amazing story of a California fish merchant who “discovered” the fish, renamed it, and created a pirate’s lore of treasure around it.  Suddenly, everyone had to have it – a fish no one had ever heard of before – and the illegal fish trade (aka pirates) were only too happy to supply it.

Here is a fish that no one really knew about until longliners started fishing deeper and deeper in territories not fished before.  Here is a fish that can live fifty years and grow to the size of humans.  Here is a fish that can be bought cheaply and sold exclusively to the American market, which prizes the texture of cod, the richness of tuna, and the mildness of flounder.  Here is a fish that possesses all those attributes and has almost a buttery feel on the palate as well.   Here is a fish that can stand up to almost any method of cooking and be spiced to every chef’s delight without overwhelming fishiness. Here is a treasure fish.

The story is centered around one of the longest pursuits of pirates in history by the Australian patrol boat Southern Supporter, which chased the poachers aboard Viarsa through treacherous waters, facing perilous weather conditions, and insurmountable odds. It moves into the courtroom where the drama of environmentalists’ battles unfolds and becomes complicated by the demand of the world’s finest restaurants to serve the perfectly flaky, white fleshed and sumptuously delicate fish. As with his previous book, Bruce ’s talented easygoing style will have you hooked from the very first pages to the last. 

Although it’s not exactly about boating, it is a tale borne on the waters.  It will do for Chilean Sea Bass what Linda Greenlaw did for swordfish in the Hungry Ocean.  I will never touch either again.

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