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Hooked: Pirates, Poaching, and the Perfect Fish Hardcover – May 2, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The Patagonian toothfish—which can live up to 50 years and grow to six feet long—is an ugly creature considered too bland for eating by most South Americans. Its high fat content, codlike texture and lack of a fishy taste convinced a Los Angeles fish merchant who found the toothfish in Chile in 1977 that, given an exotic new name, it would do quite well in America. By 1998, "Chilean sea bass" had become the hottest restaurant craze: "[e]veryone had to have it." Knecht (The Proving Ground) weaves a parallel plot, which takes place in the South Indian Ocean in 2003, where an Australian patrol boat is hunting down a pirate vessel for stealing toothfish. The chase takes them thousands of nautical miles away to dangerous Antarctic waters and involves South African mercenaries and a dramatic boarding in dangerous seas. Knecht's gripping book flips between the commercial history of the toothfish—just the latest of many culinary fads that end up threatening an ocean species—and the chase, which illuminates the practically lawless world of commercial fishing, where factory boats with vast dragnets can devastate a population in just a couple of years, a practice the author calls "the marine equivalent of strip mining." First serial in the Wall Street Journal. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Hookedis a fish story, a global whodunit, a courtroom drama--and a critically important ecological message all rolled into one.”--Tom Brokaw

“It’s one of the best ones I’ve read in years” -Tom Brokaw
Today (NBC) 05/24/06
Review by John Balzar,LA Times
A high-seas adventure with enough action and suspense to have you holding your breath.

A mystery that untangles the roots of a culinary fad fitfully hatched in and marketed from Los Angeles.
A courtroom thriller.

Proof positive that an objective eye is the most persuasive of all.
Mr. G. Bruce Knecht, take a bow.

Not only is “Hooked: Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish” a rollicking read, it is a relief. And a wonder. For wrapped up in these red-blooded storytelling ingredients is the account of another assault on our planet’s troubled environment. And let’s face it, conservation writing has become one of our dreariest forms: The sky is falling, oh dear … fill in the blanks.

In these taut pages, Knecht takes livelier aim at the plundering of a limited resource for the sake of growing appetites. He delivers us, straight ahead and close-in, to an epic sea chase across the fearsome Southern Ocean. In one boat, righteous men are out to get what they want, what they regard as theirs, in this seascape of ice and storm. In the other, righteous men are out to stop them in the name of the law.

The story about the demise of the Patagonian toothfish, an ugly, tasteless creature with an unappealing name, is not so heartening. But the fact that Knecht tells it with such crackling drive and with complete confidence in the good judgment of his readers is.

The Patagonian toothfish is large, dark-skinned and cod-like in appearance. The name comes from its undershot mouth and needle-sharp fangs. It dwells in deep, cold waters -- for purposes of Knecht’s story, in the waters of the far Southern Hemisphere. Back in the late 1970s, it was a trash fish caught only incidentally by the commercial fleet that worked out of Valparaíso, Chile. It was thought too oily to be desirable.

But a decline in the catch of other more salable fish, along with some desperate determination by global fish brokers who work the Chile-to-Los Angeles circuit, a dash of ingenuity by seafood marketers and a splash of savory miso glaze in a fancy New York restaurant, and voilà, you have the highly desirable, evermore expensive and, of course, deliciously trendy Chilean sea bass.

You can guess what this newfound glamour has meant for the toothfish. Late in the game, as usual, fishery experts have weighed in with the news that this long-lived, slow-growing animal cannot endure the strip-mining of modern commercial fishing. By now, though, the fish has become the rage, commanding exorbitant prices; for fisherman, this is irresistible. Although their reach and budgets are limited, governments have made efforts to “save” the toothfish, joined in the effort by environmental activists and, here and there, responsible chefs too.

But enough. I said that Knecht had confidence in his readers. This book contains no sermon. All the essential elements are there, yes. But if someone is going to take to the soapbox and wag a stern finger, it will have to be you.

Tearing through this page turner is enough to trigger a pinch-me sensation. Wait a minute, am I reading a book about exploitation of our fragile planet in which the writer isn’t bashing me over the head with the obvious? Am I learning about the sensibilities of those who fish where they please along with the struggles of those who try to stop them? Am I getting both a story and the story?

You are.

We can wish Knecht good fortune in the hope that others will follow his cue. True enough, not all conservation issues yield the plot and rugged characters of a Jack London high-seas adventure. And it’s plain that the most pressing conservation stories, like global warming, don’t arrive at easy answers.

But there is something to the notion of casting one’s net wider than the didactic, and Knecht proves it. Conservationists will be with him, and who knows who else he will reel in for the sake of an oh-my-goodness tale.

A reporter for the Wall Street Journal as well as an experienced sailor, Knecht’s last book was the harrowing adventure “The Proving Ground,“ the story of the tragic Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race in 1998, in which a surprise storm took out more than half the fleet and killed six mariners. His feel for the wild wonder of the sea goes without saying.

But what about the courtroom thriller part of this book?

We’ll leave that to the author and his compelling narrative. The outlines of the story have the Australian patrol boat Southern Supporter in territorial waters north of Antarctica, prime habitat for the shrinking population of Patagonian toothfish. The under-gunned patrol encounters a shadowy 175-foot, Uruguayan-flagged ship, the Viarsa-1. Fishing pirates? Probably.

Before the tale is over, these ships have traversed 4,000 miles of some of the most inhospitable and terrifying waters on the planet, and two years have lapsed. Australia, which is not alone among nations with an imperfect record of managing fisheries, has its laws tested by the tradition of lawlessness that has long ruled the high seas.

All the while, by the heavy ton, by the container load, by the merciless rule of supply and demand, Patagonian toothfish are drawn from the deep, grilled, poached, broiled and sauced in another maritime gold rush.

Then a jury speaks.

It gives away nothing to say that when you next find yourself at a restaurant looking at the seafood offerings, you’ll know what you should do.

John Balzar is a Times staff writer and the author of “Yukon Alone: The World’s Toughest Adventure Race.”
The New York Times - 6/15/06In 1977 Lee Lantz, a Los Angeles fish wholesaler, came across something new in the Chilean fishing port of Valparaiso. The enormous “fearsome- looking gray-black fish” was called “bacalao de profundidad,“ or “cod of the deep,“ by the local fisherman, and nobody wanted it. In “Hooked,“ G. Bruce Knecht, a writer for The Wall Street Journal, tells how the fish nobody wanted became the trendy Chilean sea bass, and how over the last 30 years it has been fished almost to the point of extinction. In chapters that move from places like the South Indian Ocean to Bridgehampton, N.Y., to Vancouver to Perth, Australia, Mr. Knecht tells of the rise and fall of a fish, as well as of a 4,000-mile chase to seize a pirate fishing boat.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Rodale Books; First Edition edition (May 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594861102
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594861109
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #537,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
When was the last time you ordered fish at a restaurant? Have you ever wondered how those fish got there? How about Chilean Sea Bass? My wife and I have ordered it dozens of times. Very tasty. One of my favorites. Once you read "Hooked", you might want to reconsider. "Hooked" is an adventure tale of how our oceans are being stripped of fish in unenlightened ways. This book is fascinating reading as fast paced as an adventure novel. I guarantee you'll enjoy it and learn so much about things you never knew about--fish, our oceans, ice, maritime laws. Every person who has ever ordered fish from a restaurant should read it. I highly recommend it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book detailing an illegal fishing expedition in Australian water resulting in a forced boarding after a lengthy chase to north of South Africa, as well as the resulting trial. But that is not the most interesting story of the book. The author details the discovery of Chilean Sea Bass (bass? what a joke), the marketing angle, and the subsequent ecological tragedy as the sea beds are over fished in 15 years. The author did excellent research and tells this compelling tale while teaching the reader about the fishing industry, legal and illegal, and the current state of our fishing beds. One concern I have about the book is it is somewhat disjointed as he jumps from country to country at one point adding in a story of a fishing company owner living in America who is arrested for importing fish illegally caught. Also, in many respects the trial at the end of the book is very anti-climatic.

Overall though, this is a very interesting book where you will learn quite a bit about the fishing industry and problems with our supplies of fish.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Perfect fish? This is the perfect book! Hooked is part pirate chase, part history, part courtroom drama, and part musings on globalization. And it is incredible. Knecht somehow threads disparate stories together to tell a tale about the consequences of an advertising executive's decision to change the name of Patagonian toothfish to Chilean Sea Bass, and the resultant mania it caused. Basically, sophisticated urban diners search for the new, new thing combined with a fish so oily that inexperienced chefs could not over-cook it results in... the worlds longest pirate chase.
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Format: Hardcover
HOOKED: PIRATES POACHING AND THE PERFECT FISH promises much for a wide audience, from those interested in fishing to others researching modern-day pirating and the politics of the sea. The explosive world-wide demand for popular fish has all but fostered over-fishing and all but condoned seafood piracy: HOOKED combines culinary history with a world-wide chase to document the fading Chilean Sea Bass, a prehistoric-looking fish with the richness of tuna and the texture of butter. It's hard to place this rich text: part culinary history, part social inquiry, largely environmental exploration - it also fits under 'True Adventure'. Many will find it compelling.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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By Dave on December 14, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having just returned from a fishing adventure driving all over Canada, Alaska and Prince of Wales Island this book really hit home.

The SAD truth is there are too many mouths to be fed and plenty of "pirates" willing to risk life and limb (and jail time) to rape the ocean to bring the fish to market. Incredible true story.

Should be required reading in all high schools.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wonderful adventure and true story. It starts out a bit slow but revs into high gear for an amazing chase. If you cook, eat out and or love fish this book will be a fun and educational read about our oceans and fishing industry.
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Format: Hardcover
Even if one doesn't care about the plight of marine species like Chilean Seabass this book makes a great read! It is a thrilling good guy bad guy story taking place in a desolate part of the world. It also very informative and insightful regarding Marine Conservation.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating book. There are two stories. One involves a pursuit on the high seas, the other is the story of the fish itself, from the fishing net to the table.
You will be on the edge of your seat.
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