In a former life I spent a year working on a little island off the coast of Tanzania called Mafia. I helped conduct research for the marine park there. Life was pretty tough. In between dives, there was little else to do but play volleyball, go fishing, walk along miles of pristine white beaches and read books in my hammock.
Like I said, life was hard, but it did give me the opportunity to read a great number of books about the sea. So here, for world book day are my top fishy reads:
The Log From The Sea of Cortez
No, not pulp fiction about an errant piece of flotsam, but an account of a fishing/research trip around the Gulf of California with marine biologist Ed Ricketts- 'a great teacher, a great lecher- an immortal who loved women'. (He later based 'Doc' from Cannery Row on him).
It's essentially an account of a specimen collecting expedition, which could be pretty tawdry stuff, but Steinbeck's wit, charm and oddball philosophising make it a great read, with some brilliant characters.
Seven- Tenths: The Sea and its Thresholds
More a collection of essays, than a book. It's a perfect blend of science and literature. If you like Roger Deakin's Wildwood, then have a look. An ethereal, slightly hallucinogenic look at the oceans.
Once the British Ambassador to Laos, Alan Davidson's book is right up my street. At first glance it's a nerdy assay of all the species of fish found in the Mediterranean, with their common names in Turkish, Spanish- all the swarthy languages. But alongside the illustrations are notes on cuisine. Imagine a Collins bird guide with roasting instructions. He also wrote a similar book on North Atlantic Seafood. But personally I think it lacks the summery vibes of his first. Useful if you want to pickle herring though.
According to Mark Kurlansky, pretty much every one of man's greatest achievements was somehow reached serendipitously whilst in the search for cod, well discovering America was anyway.
This really is a charming history of a fish so commonplace we tend to forget its ubiquity on menus. Following the early Basque fishermen all the way to the collapse of the Grand Banks fishery, the tale of cod is a tragic, but important one.
The End of The Line
I remember putting this book down and deciding I'd stop lazing around on beaches and go and do a Masters. It's an amazingly powerful idictment of industrialised fishing and the woeful mismanagement of our oceans. Powerful stuff.
The Unnatural History of the Sea
Prof Callum Roberts
My professor from the aforementioned Masters course wrote this. It tracks the effects on our oceans of mankind's past mistakes, while also keeping an eye on the solutions. It's eloquently done and while it paints a grim picture, there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.
Coral Reef Fishes
Ewald Lieske & Robert Myers
The definitive book on reef fishes. A bible for marine biologists with a tropical bent. My copy's caked in suncream and sand. Sadly out of print now. God knows what they're using these days. Ipad or something. Try getting that covered in sand and suncream.
Obviously, if you think I've missed out a classic or have any recommendations, do leave a comment.