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WHAT'S FRESH: BUYING OPPORTUNITIES : Swordfish Story : Professionals land the migratory creatures with harpoons or snare them with drift nets.

August 09, 1990|RODNEY BOSCH

With its long, sharp-pointed snout, the swordfish is one of the most recognizable species and prized catches to swim the ocean depths.

"It's a migratory fish and the best time to catch them is on their way back up during August through to the beginning of November," said Ed Lusk, owner of Cal Pacifica Seafood in Ventura.

Cal Pacifica sells part of their daily catch of fresh seafood at a market located in their warehouse.

Lusk said there are two methods fishermen use to bring home swordfish.

"The first is to harpoon the fish," Lusk said.

"The swordfish feeds down fairly deep and they will come up to the surface to warm themselves. As they swim near the top, the fins stick out of the water."

The hunt begins.

The fish are spotted from aircraft, and their exact whereabouts are radioed to an accompanying fishing vessel. A 13-foot harpoon is heaved at the swordfish by hand, from the boat. A barbed tip, attached to 600 feet of line with tracking buoys, will lodge in the fish. After an exhausting run at freedom, the fish tires and is hauled back to the boat.

"A lot of the harpooned swordfish are caught right by the Channel Islands," Lusk said.

The second method of catching swordfish involves drift netting.

"We use water temperature to get a fixed position on where to set the net," Lusk said.

Fishermen receive an on-board faxed signal from the National Weather Service, which provides satellite surface temperatures of the ocean. The fishermen look to see where warm water meets a cold water current.

"Once finding that point, we use fish scanners to locate bait fish, such as sardines, anchovies and squid," Lusk said, "and that's where the swordfish should be feeding."

A nylon mesh net, limited to 6,000 feet in length, is suspended in a straight line 20 feet to 30 feet below the surface, to prevent passing vessels from snagging it. There it will hang down another 150 to 200 feet.

"We drop the net at sunset and pull it up about sunrise. Sharks start roaming around then and will feed on what is caught and can damage the line," Lusk said.

The boat will stay out four to six days and travel sometimes up to 200 miles offshore, "but most fish around 80 miles out," Lusk said.

Lusk noted the U.S. fisheries utilizing drift nets are highly regulated and must use nets designed especially for the intended species.

"For swordfish, a 20-inch nylon mesh net is used, which lets a lot of the smaller fish pass through.

"The average weight of swordfish is about 180 pounds, but they do get up close to 500 pounds," Lusk said.

And what about the effect on the dolphin population?

"I haven't seen a dolphin caught in one of these nets off these waters for years," said Lusk.

Cal Pacifica is currently selling swordfish steaks for about $7.95 a pound. "That will come down some during September," Lusk said.

"It's a real popular fish. It has a distinct flavor--probably close to a steak," Lusk said.

He recommends barbecuing swordfish.

"Melt a little butter--half a cube is fine. Add in a pinch of garlic, splash of white wine, juice of one lemon, half a teaspoon of capers and another smashed teaspoon for taste. Brush it over the fish while cooking and any extra over the fish before serving."

For a steak that's about an inch thick, "give it seven to eight minutes per side over a medium barbecue," Lusk said.

When buying swordfish steaks, Lusk said to watch for the fish's bloodline for a sign of freshness.

"The bloodline is like a pencil sketch. It should be fine and nice and red. As it ages, the bloodline will become wider and darker."

The Cal Pacifica Seafood market is located at 36 Franklin Lane, Ventura. Call 643-8074.

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