Linda Greenlaw is a swordfish captain in Isle au Haut, Maine and author of "The Hungry Ocean."

How are the fish stocks doing?

I’m confident that fish stocks are in good shape. I just talked to a friend of mine. He just landed a trip fishing New Bedford, Mass. He had 57,000 kg of fish and he had over a 100 lb. average. Now 57,000 Kg of Swordfish has been a good trip for years and years. It’s excellent. Obviously he didn’t catch every last fish in the ocean. I think there’s plenty of fish.

The swordfish usually spawns around 70 lb.’s. So a 100lb fish has had a chance to reproduce.

Where are the fish caught?

Most of the fish are being caught East of the Grand Banks in Newfoundland. That’s where we generally fish.

What’s your take, then on all the talk about the low swordfish populations?

Well, I think for the most part the general public has been misinformed.

I think it’s good people feel they want to do the right thing. I’m a conservationist myself, I want to insure there’s a future in fishing. I’m confident that the laws and regulations are enough at this point to keep the stocks healthy.

I think one of the statistics that you’ll hear in favor of conservation is that the average size of the SF landed has declined something like 60% in the last 40 years. But that sounds really scary "Oh long-liners are only catching baby swordfish," but what they don’t tell you is that the only SF industry 40 years ago was a harpoon industry. Harpoon fish are big fish. SF are caught in every ocean, they’re fished on by many countries. Fish only surface in a few places in the world to be harpooned. And they’re big fish.

Restaurants created a demand for small fish. Restaurants don’t want a 500 lb. fish, the steaks are to big for the plate and small restaurants can’t afford to put that much money into one fish. If they can’t sell it in 2-3 days they have to freeze it. They created a demand for smaller fish, puppies is how we refer to them.

Fishermen are a pretty savvy group, It’s how we make a living. We supply the demand. We developed a fishery with hook, long-lining, and with hooks you catch fish of all different sizes. So yes, the average size of the fish has declined. We still catch big fish. The average size of the fish they landed recently was 100lbs. I mean, that’s a nice fish. A 100 lb. fish is a good fish.

Other than landing, what about discards of small fish?

Discard is not a factor where I’ve spent most of my life east of the Grand Banks. We’re allowed 15% of our headcount to be under 40lbs and all the years I’ve fished that regulation was in place I never even had my 15%. We try to release the small fish that are still alive and keep the dead fish to make up our allowable percentage. So discard is not a factor anywhere I’ve ever fished.

Do you have any concerns about stocks at all?

I have concerns in that left to our own devices we won’t self regulate. Fishermen have proven that. That’s how we make a living, we catch fish. Everyone wants to catch the biggest fish, the most fish the fastest. There’s a lot of healthy competition. So the rules and regulations are needed. But I’m confident that the rules and regulations in place are enough to keep the stocks healthy.

Besides small swordfish, do you catch and toss any other discards?

I can only talk about the areas I fish. I can only talk about the captains I fish around. As I said, most responsible captains, I like to think us fishermen are pretty responsible. You have to be a pretty good fisherman just to get the boats that far away and back in one piece and we fish a pretty terrible season to fish weather wise; it’s hurricane season. So it’s a pretty good group of guys. We release the fish that are still alive. It’s just like catch and release sports fishing. If the fish is alive, you let it go. If it’s dead you keep up it for your allowable percentage. Nobody wants to fish on small fish. I mean, you don’t fill the boat very fast with 20 to 30 lb. fish. You fill the boat quickly with 100 pond fish. So nobody would fish intentionally on baby fish.

Are you aware of nursery areas and are you able to avoid those areas to allow the swordfish to breed?

Swordfish migrate and so it’s very seasonal in different areas. I guess the worst thing that’s happening is allowing boats to fish down in the Caribbean and other places where fish do spawn. I’ve never, ever caught a fish full of spawn in the north, north east of the Grand Banks. It’s the wrong season for them, they aren’t spawning, they go south to the warmer water to spawn. So if anything, I guess, if they’re going to protect anything I guess they’d protect the areas where the fish spawn down around the Caribbean. For the stock of fish I fish on.

Have you had any experiences with by-catch or marine mammals being affected by your fishing practices?

I’ve been involved with fishing for 18 years. 16 of those have been long-lining for swordfish and I’ve had one interaction with a marine mammal. The mammal did not die, it was a small porpoise. We released the porpoise. It did not die. It wasn’t even hooked, it had line wrapped around it’s tail. We released the porpoise. It swam off, everything was fine. I’ve had interactions with turtles, never seen a dead turtle. Hooks are very selective, obviously. Mammals are pretty smart. They don’t want to eat frozen squid, they want their bait live. They feed themselves, they’re smart enough not to bite a hook. Hasn’t been a problem. Again, people are misinformed. I’ve never killed a bird. I’ve never caught a bird long-lining on the Grand Banks. Long-lining is a pretty clean fishery as I’ve said, other fisheries are not as clean. People are misinformed, plain and simple. Any by-catch that I have other than the target species of swordfish and tuna, would be Mahi-mahi, but people eat those. It’s not a waste. I don’t have any desire to kill anything that won’t be used as food.

We have been talking to a lot of fishermen who say that the fish aren’t there…

You know what, you’ve been talking to a lot of small fishermen and I’m sure that’s the way they all feel. They can’t make a living. Now really, the lack of fish is inshore. Now what that tells me is that the in shore fish have been overfished. Maybe the smaller guys need to start tightening up and start protecting their resource. If they can’t get offshore, they’d better protect what they have inshore.

You know, everybody needs to make a living. The big boat guys will say the small boats are the problem, everyone agrees there’s a problem and nobody wants to sacrifice. You know, that’s just human nature. It’s always somebody else’s fault.

Could you speak a little bit about a fisherman’s sense of what being a conservationist means?

I am a conservationist. I like to know there's a future in fishing for myself and future generations. I love going to sea. I am passionate about catching fish. One of life’s simple pleasures is going out with hook and line catching one fish. I think it’s a right everyone has to do. I am confident the fish will be round cause they are so protected.

Another idea we keep coming across is the notion that there are too many boats chasing after too many fish. Fish are a finite resource and the fishing fleet is getting too large…

You know what, fish are a renewable resource. If you take care of the resource you’re always going to have it. Now, all the conservation groups have like to point the finger at overfishing. ‘Well, the fish stocks are declining, it’s got to be overfishing…" What about pollution? What about loss of habitat?

There has to be a balance between conservation — you know we have to feed the world. Fishermen and farmers, that’s what we’re doing; feeding the world. Now fish is a good food. It’s health food. I don’t put the life of a fish on a human level. A lot of people say, ‘Don’t you feel bad killing fish?’ I don’t feel bad, killing something that’s going to feed me.

So, have you actually seen and caught large swordfish lately?

I know they like to say there aren’t any big swordfish left. There’s a picture in Fisherman Magazine two issues ago of me with a 200 lb. swordfish. It’s a pretty recent picture, there are big fish left. You have to know where to get them. I think one of the problems especially on the Florida coast, if there’s no bait around the fish aren’t gonna be around. Where there’s prey, there’s a predator. If the baits not there, other fishes have caught the bait up or the factory trawlers have caught the bait up. Or just because of pollution factor, or loss of habitat the baits not there, the fish aren’t going to be there.

As I mentioned a friend of mine just landed 57,000 pounds of fish. That’s a lot of swordfish for one trip, one boat. There are fish around. If there aren’t big fish off the coast of Florida, maybe they better figure out why but it’s not the longlines that have caught them all. I don’t think you’re going to be able to wipe out a spawn fish with hooks. It’s just not going to happen. A few years ago nobody thought there were swordfish left on Georges Banks. A lot of small boats went out there with hooks. Some clever guy went out with a gill net, caught all kinds of swordfish. Now why they aren’t biting the hooks, I don’t know. There’s fish out there. The gill net quota is very small. The guys go out and catch their quota in one trip. There’s plenty of fish. They catch their quota in one trip! There’s fish around.

Can you understand the perspective of the sports fishermen who say that commercial fishing should be banned?

I know that the sports fishing groups are very adamant about commercial fishing and a lot of them would like to see an end to commercial fishing. I don’t know. It’s a big ocean. I think there’s plenty of room for everyone. I’m a sports fisherman in a way. I mean, I love to go out and catch fish just for fun. But, as I said, fish is a good food. Sport fishermen aren’t going to feed the country seafood. All fish can’t be farmed. It’s something in our heritage. People have been fishing since time began. Now I think it’s a right, and as long as it’s protected and people fish responsibly and rules and regulations that are followed.

What do you think about the current management plans?

I think a lot of management practices are very good. I think closed areas are good. Protecting the areas where fish spawn. That’s a good regulation. There are bad regulations. Any regulation that has a daily quota or a trip quota. Let’s say 100 pounds a day for codfish. That’s ridiculous. No matter what you set the level at if it’s a daily quota, eventually boats are going to reach that level and be throwing dead fish overboard. It’s very wasteful. That’s a bad regulation. I think gear regulations are good. Only use a certain size hook or size mesh for nets. But I think quotas are a bad way to manage because I think they’re wasteful.

There’s a thing called high grading, which is when you’re on a trip leave quota, you throw out the small fish and you only keep the big fish. And as the trip goes on, you do something called high grading where you throw out the small fish you’ve already put in the fish hold to replace with bigger fish that are worth more money. It’s such a waste. That’s why I think trip leave quotas are bad. I think these quotas aren’t a good regulation.

Wouldn’t you agree that it makes sense to protect spawning grounds for the good of the long term health of the fishery?

Well, I agree there are areas where you catch more small fish than others. And there’s no question about the fact that swordfish go to certain areas to spawn. So if you can allow the fish to spawn, you know, the fishery’s going to stand a better chance. You have an agreement on that.

I talked to another fishermen who was saying that although fishermen here stay out of certain swordfish spawning areas, a lot of other fishermen from other countries are not respecting the same boundaries.

I don’t know what the other areas are doing. I guess the comment I could make about that, the ICCAT quota for the North Atlantic — the US fishermen have a very small percentage of that quota. We don’t go over our quota, we are very managed by the government, by NMFS. Other countries exceed their quota, sometimes doubling the quota. So it doesn’t seem fair to crack down on the US fishermen who are already in compliance with all the rules rather than just insuring the other countries stick to their quotas. And I think that’d be a good first step.

Could you talk about what has motivated you to fish?

I have never fished just for the money. I fish because I like to go fishing. I think most of the miserable people in the world are people who just fish for the money, because certain times of the year mechanical breakdowns or whatever. There are times you don’t make any money, so you better like what you’re doing. I feel very passionate about the lifestyle. The title of my book, The Hungry Ocean, refers to the ocean’s ability to totally consume you. If you like what you’re doing, be drawn to it and be taken by it, consumed by it. It’s very rewarding. I feel very fortunate to have spent 18 years of my life doing something I like so much.