In the lead up to my sisters 60th birthday she cycled sixty, 60 mile cycles. “Why don’t you do something that involves 60?” she suggested to me almost a year ago. I replied that I’d enjoy eating sixty cakes or, even better, drinking sixty wines that cost over sixty pounds. Not impressed by either of those ideas she suggested I did sixty drawings of something and that’s where 60 fish began.
In the little movie (link attached below) you’ll see not only fish that form part of my life’s fond memories but also fish that are in peril within the seas; some soon to be snuffed out for good.
In making this little movie I’ve revisited my memories of the joy and wonderment these creatures have given me which I’d like to share with you.
Below is a little background to the inspiration of this piece.
I’ve always been involved with fish. As a tiny child, eating grilled flying fish and squirming at the Idea of creole fish eye soup, watching as an eye got spooned out and sucked with gusto. At five I fished with a stick, natural cord and worms in the swamps of Trinidad for baby Tarpon while the adults scooped up brightly coloured guppies with their fish nets. I’ve fished for Barracuda with hand lines and used spinners to catch stippled Brown trout in brackish water from a small wooden row boat; the spinner setting a minuscule, almost electronic, vibration on the line between my fingers as I waited for that sudden tug and the beauty of a stippled Brown trout, shiny and perfect appearing out of the dark water.
From Java to Oman, Parrot fish, Clown fish and Box fish have mesmerised me. Diving to get a closer view and pushing my lungs to the limit. I’ve wandered the fish markets of Northern Brazil and Kuwait and marvelled at the species on display from Tamuata to Zubaidi. I’ve eaten the earthy tasting Pirarucu with rice for days on end on the hammock boat to Manaus. Leaning over the rails watching in wonder as these prehistoric creatures with huge scales were hauled overboard. Most delicious of all was the “Hamoor” (Orange spotted grouper), grilled Egyptian style and eaten with my fingers in Muscat.
Fish have taught me many things. The little Clown fish couple, I visited every morning on their nest off Menjangan, taught me to have courage as they fronted up to me when I got too close. The Sticklebacks, in a derelict freshwater swimming pool within a quiet wood in Wicklow taught me patience, as I would lye on my tummy squinting through the waters surface. Watching Brown trout rise for flies, in the shadow of tall mountains, with just the sound of the dipping ors, clunk of rowlock and the gentle sway of the Lochs’ willows, taught me to enjoy quietude.
Now many fish are on the edge of extinction. I wanted to include some of these among my 60 fish. The blue fin tuna and the New Zealand tooth-fish along with the terrible by catch fatalities its fishing incurs.
Today I drift over a mirror calm surface in Kimmeridge bay. Looking down on forests of multi coloured seaweed . I could be flying over the amazon. Its beautiful, but there’s not a fish in sight.
Earlier this year I snorkelled across this bay and saw less than half a dozen fish. My old neighbour told me of fishing for Mackerel in the 1970s; in less than half an hour they had more than seventy five of them. No such catch has been recorded by her since. Kimmeridge bay is a marine reserve, so how could this be? I’d expect it to be full of fish. Our seas are almost empty: we’ve eaten and squandered the fish.
Many thanks to Suzy Mcallister for all her help in the post production of the “60 Fish” video
Recommended background reading on the state of our Oceans and Rivers: “Ocean of Life” by Callum Roberts