Hooked: Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish

Hooked: Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish explains how the Patagonian toothfish (aka Chilean Sea Bass) went from being an obscure, unappealing creature to the favorite target for fleets of illegal fishing vessels.

Hooked is also an adventure story built around one of the longest pursuits in nautical history, which commenced when an Australian patrol boat spotted a pirate fishing vessel that was harvesting toothfish several hundred miles north of Antarctica.  The 4,000-mile chase went halfway around the world and through building-size waves, densely packed ice, and an obstacle course of icebergs.

The story is populated by fiercely determined good guys, villains who are almost equally empathetic, and another character that deserves our attention: the toothfish itself.

Readers first meet the prehistoric-looking animal in a Chilean port where it was spotted by an American fish merchant in 1977.  He was on the lookout for something new.  And with mild white flesh that seemed to accept every spice and hold up to every method of cooking, he recognized the toothfish’s potential in the American market.  He also understood it could never become a big seller with such an off-putting name, so he coined a new one that was as misleading as it was appealing.  From its use in frozen “fish fingers,” to its popularity in Cantonese restaurants where it was an inexpensive substitute for black cod, to its New York debut at a trendy restaurant, Hooked chronicles the emergence of Chilean Sea Bass as a menu must-have for chefs across the country.

With the exploding demand came irresistible incentives for fishermen who were willing to violate the law.  Ships that simultaneously set thousands of baited hooks captured several tons of fish in a single day.  Like with most large fish, the toothfish’s survival is now uncertain.  In Hooked, the high-stakes commercial and environmental battles become a gripping narrative.  It ends with a dramatic courtroom confrontation—and a shocking twist.