The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: fish

A Thanks to Brian Lam, Matt Warshaw, Jeremy Spencer, Chronicle Books – and Everyone who’s Made this Ocean Life Possible


My first ever rejection letter. Courtesy of Surfer Magazine and Matt Warshaw. 1989. 

It’s weird the stuff you decide to file in your folder book of memories. The above note is one such recently found object. It’s my very first, of very, very many professional rejection notes. If you’re a writer, you get used to rejection notes from editors. If you don’t, well, you’d better find other work. Aside from being a first, what makes this letter so very damn special is that it was written and signed by none other than Matt Warshaw. If you’re a surfer who’s worth even a grain of salt, you know him. If you’re not a surfer, suffice to say that the author of The History of Surfing and editor of The Encyclopedia of Surfing is to our sport as Ken Burns is to baseball – or James Michener is to Hawaii.


Not too long ago, I stumbled upon Warshaw’s note in the back of my garage, amidst a stack of yellowing articles and letters. I’d completely forgotten this little nugget, but I vividly remember when it arrived. It was late 1989. I was a hopeful young journalism graduate, freshly minted from the University of Georgia, freshly cast off by my UGA girlfriend and freshly rendered unemployed and homeless by hurricane Hugo’s godawful smashing of the South Carolina coast. Forlorn and filled with a twenty-something’s boundless capacity for angst, I’d found temporary refuge in the basement of my dad’s Atlanta condo, and a temporary job shuffling fonts around on a Macintosh computer at his advertising agency. I reckoned the only way out of depression and self-pity was to write, and get the hell back to the beach.

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This Is Life in an Andaman Sea Village During Monsoon Season. A Photo Essay.


One moment, the Burmese coast of the Andaman Sea looked like this, frenzied and white-horsed, with gale force winds and pelting–literally stinging–rain. The next, it would abate to the sobering serenity of still air and blue skies. All of this has no bearing on the people living in small stilted villages on the Andaman Sea, who make their homes and feed their children day-in, day-out, year-round, come wind, hail, rain or shine. Photo: Owen James Burke.


Watching these small narrow boats fade out on the horizon behind a line of squalls chilled my bones to the marrow. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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The sound of the rain meeting this tarpaulin-tin city was tremendous. It hushed all conversation and jarred your concentration. Photo: Owen James Burke.


But then, moments later, it would look like this, but regardless of the weather, tide or hour, these longboats seemed to be buzzing in and out port all day long. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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Wish You Were Here: Traveling the Lost Coast, Northern California


Somewhere along the northern reaches of California State Highway One. Photo: Owen James Burke.

There are few places left on earth as rife with life as Northern California’s Lost Coast. Several years ago, after abandoning my partner, job and apartment to hop into the back of a van and go salmon fishing with a couple of friends, I encountered these lonely little peaks along the road. With no board or wetsuit–this was strictly a fishing mission–we had to pass them by, but the empty A-frames along this desolate stretch of beach have been on my mind ever since. Someday, I keep telling myself. . . .

How was the salmon fishing, you ask? I think this picture speaks for itself:


Photo: Owen James Burke.


“Caught Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” The Harrowing Flight of the Flying Fish.

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Above, a mahi mahi (aka dorado or dolphinfish) gives a flying fish the fright of its life. Screenshot from the BBC video below.

Flying fish (family Exocoetidae) can glide for hundreds of yards to dodge predatory fish like mahi mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) from below, but when the frigate birds arrive, they’re merely out of the frying pan and into the fire.

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Wish You Were Here: Wandering Through a Taiwanese Fish Market


See how reflective and translucent these eyes look? Fish don’t get any fresher. Another way to tell is the sheen on the skin and scales, which lets you know that their protective coats are still intact. I’ll always favor catching my own, but when I absolutely have to buy fish, this is what I look for. Photo: Owen James Burke.

Weaving through the hawker stands of a Taiwanese fish market, you’re thoroughly and consistently astonished by the freshness and diversity within their ice chests, each and every morning. What’s more–I took this photograph nearly 30 miles inland in Zhongli, Taoyuan County. These fish, I was told, are caught at night and delivered each morning before the sun came up so that the hawkers–artists at heart, no doubt–can arrange their sleeted canvases before patrons arrive.


How a ‘Bubble Curtain’ Will Protect Marine Life When San Francisco’s Bay Bridge Is Demolished


It would appear that this might be the greatest lengths any demolition project has ever approached in order to save a population of smelt, and that is why we love San Francisco. Gif file:

This fall, before 9072 tons of dynamite are detonated, likely this month, when waters are believed to be least teaming with fish and mammals, a diffusion of bubbles will be cast around the bridge in order act as an alarm, hopefully dispersing and deterring wildlife from the area. An audio recording will also be played in hopes of warding off birds, too.

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This Is How the Ancient Māori of New Zealand Made Fishing Lures

Scuttlefish writer Owen James Burke is currently rambling around New Zealand in a camper van with a camera, surfboard and speargun in search of stories, waves and fish. We’re putting together a waterperson’s guide to the island nation, but meanwhile, we’ll be publishing stories and photographs, short updates along the way from the Yankee in Kiwiland. -CD


Bone (that from human was most prized, especially–naturally–that of an enemy, when at hand), paua shell (or “abalone”) and wood, all bound by woven fibers from the flax plant. The abalone shell would not only add weight to the lure, but provide a reflective flash when retrieved, bearing a striking resemblance to wounded or fleeing baitfish like herring or mullet. At the Kaikoura Museum. Photo: Owen James Burke.

Before Europeans arrived on New Zealand’s shores with metal tools and wares, the native Māori fashioned lures like this one in order to outwit Kahawai, a fish species endemic to the coastal waters of New Zealand and Eastern Australia, also known as the “Australian salmon” for their sensational acrobatics.

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Is Kelp the New Kale, Omega-3 Supplement, Snack, Animal Feed, Bacon – or even Gasoline?


Illustration of Bren Smith’s 3-D ocean farm. Image from

There is a revolving door in global markets for food fads. Coconut water and related products have become a billion-dollar industry. Kale, in the ‘chip’ form alone, made about two hundred million dollars last year. But there is a new contender that is gaining in popularity, sneaking up on a number of different food products and may turn out to be far more than just a fad – seaweed.

I’ve always been fascinated with seaweed, especially since my husband is an ecologist who studies algae, and I’ve worked with him on several studies, as well as in the aquaculture world. So last week’s article by Dana Goodyear  in The New Yorker was especially interesting

The article laid out the future of seaweed on the American plate – “A New Leaf: Seaweed Could be a Miracle Food—If We Can Figure Out How to Make it Taste Good”. In the article, Goodyear explores all the potential roads to success for the ‘sea vegetable’, especially against the backdrop of seaweed as a carbon negative crop; as a conservation measure to restore seaweed habitat and the thousands of marine species that rely on it, and as a way to mitigate impacts of run-off due to the fantastic ability of seaweed to absorb nitrogen and phosphorus.

Goodyear features Bren Smith – a fisherman turned entrepreneurial ocean farmer, who wants to bring sustainable seaweed and shellfish to a table near you. Smith is a lifelong commercial fisherman, who turned to aquaculture as a way to restore jobs for out of work fishermen, and help hedge against climate change, while creating an environmentally-friendly farm that has zero inputs.


Kelp harvest. Image from at Thimble Island Ocean Farm.

Thimble Island Ocean Farm, off Stony Creek, Connecticut is the equivalent of 3-acres of ocean surface and 6 feet in depth. Smith’s approach has been a multi-trophic and integrated ocean farm, which means numbers of different species are raised in the same area. In addition to seaweed, Smith also harvests marine invertebrates including mussels, scallops, and clams. His farm is self-sustaining and he told The New Yorker that, “…The farm is a reef for hundreds of species. This is what you want to see. This is good, restorative ocean farming.”

For an in-depth, 2014 Scuttlefish interview with Smith check out: Life in Salt: A Talk with Bren Smith, Owner of Thimble Island Oysters and Long Island Sound’s First Vertical 3D Ocean Farm.

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