A Fisheries Scientist Considers Latin

Peter Munro


Sit down. Hoist a draught of this porter, black
as three hundred fathoms. Listen to me bitch awhile.
I work hard for a living. On shore, chained
to a computer, galley slave to statistics,
I hunt the unknown probability density function
and balance efficiency against bias
of estimators of mean and variance.
Or, during the field season, slogging across the net
alley hefting bushel baskets of fish, I harvest data
while swells climb the bulwark and bury
the rail and sweep the deck and snot drips
from my nose to season the Bering Sea a little.
I spend my summer watching my breath,
hearing fish-bloody scuppers roar as the trawler
shakes the sea off her back, looking for something
to cling to on the really hard rolls. I spend
my winter wondering where my summer
went and hoping my monitor burns out
before my eyes do.

I used to survey Gadus macrocephalus
but never the cod. The entire Sebastes
genus used to impress me with their advanced
evolutionary development. Like-
wise all Myoxocephalus. But I rarely
dreamt of rockfish solemn as Magi
or sculpin avatars of the Davy Jones Tao.
Then I encountered the rosethorn rockfish
(Sebastes rhodochloris, later changed
to Sebastes helvomaculatus
by icthyological taxonomists run amuck).
Such a beautiful animal. Smaller than a salmon
shark, smaller than a salmon, not
sleek, it lay in my hand, delicate
and fierce, dorsal and opercular spines fine, strong,
and sharp enough to slip right through heavy rubber
gillnet gloves into skin, rose red with neon
blue spots sprinkled lightly about her head,
(I know it was a her because I get paid
to scalpel open the abdomen, locate the gonad,
and record gender along with length and weight),
her body more slender than the bluff bows
of Sebastes borealis, Sebastes
aleutianus
, or Sebastes pinniger,
and I thought "rosethorn rockfish" and hated
Latin all of the sudden.

Now I irk my younger deckmates, calling out
to my data keeper "23.5 kilos of the red
ones" or "17.3 kilos of the long, skinny,
mottled ones." I direct that fork-lengths be measured
for slime queens, never the arrowtooth flounder
(Atheresthes stomias). If there are no Poles
on the boat, the walleye pollock (Theragra
chalcogramma
) becomes the Kowalski. A mess
of Glyptocephalus zachirus, the rex sole,
are known as Doctors Oedipus under formal
circumstances, Misters Ed if we're just horsing
around. The sea anemone (Metridium sp),
after having been wrenched from its rock
by the trawl and scrunching itself
into a crimson ball with a sphincter
on one axis, is the red asshole
(or, if there is no risk of a sexual harassment
suit and we've been too many weeks at sea,
and because sailors truly love alliteration, the pocket
pussy). And always, one fish two fish red fish blue fish,
a rosethorn is a rosethorn is a rosethorn.

Copyright CrossConnect, Inc. 1996

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