National Fisherman

Mixed Catch 

jerryJerry Fraser is NF's publisher and former editor.



Halloween is a week away, meaning we are awash in tales of vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts and goblins. But we may have two less scary monsters to have to worry about.

First came news last week that an Oxford University geneticist may have found genetic evidence that could solve the Bigfoot mystery. And soon thereafter came another startling discovery. A California marine instructor stumbled upon the carcass of a dead 18-foot-long oarfish, an eel-like creature that some say is the basis for legendary tales of sea serpents in the briny deep.

The oarfish was discovered by Jasmine Santana, a Catalina Island Marine Institute instructor, who was out snorkeling during a staff trip in Toyon Bay at Santa Catalina Island, about 24 miles from the mainland on Sunday, Oct. 13. Santana was about 30 feet deep when she came upon her startling find.

Santana tells the tale of her discovery in this report by the Telegraph, a UK-based newspaper.

Alas, Jasmine, your discovery is so five minutes ago! By Friday of that week, another oarfish had washed up on an Oceanside, Calif., beach. While not quite as big as Santana's discovery, the Oceanside oarfish measured a healthy 14 feet long.

Oarfish sightings are pretty rare. They they tend to occupy deep water, usually around 600 feet down, and they can dive more than 3,000 feet deep, researchers say.

Little is known about them. Word is they can grow to be more than 50 feet long, and can weigh as much as 600 pounds. It took a crew of more than 15 people to help Santana bring the oarfish carcass she discovered ashore.

Yet they're considered harmless. According to a National Geographic story on the California beachings, oarfish feed on plankton. They don't even have teeth. And they're not terribly good swimmers; scientists say storms or strong currents can push them to the surface.

Worldwide, there might be one oarfish beached a year. Now two have been found off California within a week of each other. What does it mean?

Well, according to Japanese legend, oarfish can predict major seismic tremors. As the story goes, the oarfish swim up from the ocean depths and beach themselves as a warning that an earthquake is coming. Reportedly, the year before the 2011 earthquake that rocked Japan, several oarfish were either beached or caught near the quake's epicenter off the coast of Honshu.

Uh-oh. Is an earthquake preparing to shake California?

According to a Yahoo! News report, probably not. Marine biologist Milton Love told Yahoo! News  there isn't much of a link between the oarfish beachings and the Japan quake. It's unlikely their appearance was connected to seismic activity, he said.

So I guess oarfish are neither terrifying monsters of the deep nor harbingers of impending disaster. Don't get me wrong, I prefer that California remain earthquake-free.

But what's life without a little mystery? If no one ever proves conclusively that sea serpents or Bigfoot do not exist, I'll be OK with that.

However, I am going to stock up on Halloween candy. You can have the vampires, werewolves, witches and zombies. There's nothing scarier than having to deal with kids trick or treating if you don't have candy to hand out.

Inside the Industry

NMFS has awarded 16 grants totaling more than $2.5 million as part of its Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program.

The program supports the development of technological solutions and changes in fishing practices designed to minimize bycatch and aims to to find creative approaches and strategies for reducing bycatch, seabird interactions, and post-release mortality in federally managed fisheries.


Abe Williams, who was elected to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association board last spring, has been selected as the new president as of September.

Williams fishes the F/V Crimson Fury, and is president of Nuna Resources, a nonprofit that supports sustainable resource development in rural Alaska, including fighting for an international solution to issues raised by the proposed Pebble Mine project.

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