Puffer fish and buried men

Somehow the saddest part of unloading this tuna boat isn’t the thousand tonnes of tuna that have been wrenched from their watery home, suffocated, and frozen solid – it’s all the other sea creatures that found themselves caught in that undiscerning, uncaring drag net. The young sharks, the rays, the baby mackerel, and the puffer fish. All of them innocent even of the crime of being a tuna, all of them to be wasted. The puffer fish look most out of place – the life squeezed out of them – tiny startled floppy brown corpses. Useless, unwanted, wasted. Dead.

After clearing eighty tonnes of tuna from our hold we hear a thud, followed by a single tuna fish rocketing through the bulkhead door dividing our hold from the almost full one next door. Jimmy is the first to realise that the boat hands must be attempting to dislodge that frozen mass of fish, he yells for them to stop but it’s too late for that, the avalanche starts. In a matter of seconds twenty tonnes of fish comes through the bulkhead in a torrent, six of us manage to scale the ammonia filled freezer pipes that criss-cross the steel walls faster than the hold is filling, Marty and Phil aren’t quite so quick. Both are buried to above their waists before the torrent ends just as abruptly as it began. We carefully descend to the new ‘floor’ - five feet higher than the one we just fled - all of us aware that the slightest wrong movement might dislodge the precarious blockage in the doorway that has halted the tide. Our efforts to haul the other two out by their arms prove fruitless, the fish that seem to move so readily under our feet are unyielding beneath the surface. We call the winch down, harness our stricken stevedores to it, and yell to the operator to pull slowly so as not to dismember them.