Warren Murphy: White Water

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When fish begin to disappear from the coastal United States, the source of the problem is discovered in Canada and threatens relations between the neighboring countries, until the Destroyer starts trawling for answers.

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Destroyer 106: White Water

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir


Since Man first stepped out of the seas to breathe open air and walk on mud, he has reached back into die cold soup that spawned him for sustenance, first with his naked hands, then with rude clubs, baskets, baited hooks and netting, as many species of fish as there were to tempt him with their cold, delicate meat. Man discovered even more ways to capture them. The more he fished, the farther from the safe shores of his dry new habitat he needed to venture to fill his eternally hungry belly. Logs became rafts, and rafts acquired sails. Sails gave way to gigantic floating factories that caught, gutted and processed the multitudinous fish into fillets and steaks to feed the upright multitudes.

Soon no edible denizen of the deep, from the lowliest urchin to the mightiest whale, from the most delicious finfish to the most repellent scavenger, was safe from the species that had claimed the apex of the food chain for its own.

For centuries Man thought the oceans he plundered of bounty to be inexhaustible reservoirs of protein. And so he fished farther and farther away from his safe shores and home ports, on greater and more-efficient sailing craft. Even when the mighty whales became scarce, he paid no heed and continued his unrelenting pursuit of the cod and tuna, the lobster and the mackerel, until their vast numbers began to dwindle. Even when the warning signs became alarm bells, Man's response was to redouble his efforts. For by this time Man was no longer a small, sustainable population, but six billion strong. Six billion mouths clamoring for food. Six billion perpetually hungry bellies of a species who possessed the skills and technology to consume all other species with whom they shared the Earth.

Man, having climbed to the top of the food chain, found himself a prisoner of his adaptive success. Like the sharks he now consumed in greater numbers than had consumed him in the past, Man had to keep moving to eat, keep hunting the lesser species if he was not to sink back into the cold soup that gave rise to him.

But the more fish he caught, the fewer fish remained for his next meal.

Chapter 1

It was supposed to be the last haul.

One last tow. It was all Roberto Rezendez desired. One last good landing before he let the federal government buy his boat, the Santo Fado, out of Innsmouth, Massachusetts, and he took up cabinet making, turning his back of the livelihood that had fed seven generations of Rezendez going back to the days when Innsmouth was the whaling capital of the New World.

The morning sky was the color of oyster shells lying discarded on the beach. The heaving swells were masked by sea smoke generated by the midwinter cold. That the waters of the Atlantic were choppy and heaving Rezendez knew from the way his bow pounded through them, making a relentless thudding that was like a drumbeat to the forlorn melody of his rust-colored trawler engine's noisy ta-poketa ta-poketa stuttering.

In more plentiful times, the Rezendez family hauled active nets brimming with kicking cod and halibut and haddock from Georges Bank, 125 miles cut from Cape Cod. It was the cod that was best. King cod, the fish that had sustained the Pilgrims. That had been long before the first Rezendez left Portugal for a new life doing what Portuguese men had done for centuries to sustain life: fish from boats.

From his grandfather, Jorge, Roberto had heard how Georges Bank had teemed with cod in those days of wonder. How in 1895 the Patriarch cod, six feet long and weighing 211 pounds, had been pulled up from the deep. No fisherman had landed a Patriarch cod since those days of plenty. Cod did not live so long in the new century. And as the new century began to dwindle, the cod had dwindled, too.

Now that the new century was old and almost done with, the trawler nets brought up plenty of trawler trash-starfish and sea stars, skate and rusty beer cans-but few of the white-bellied cod. So damn few that even the men who lived off them had begun to understand they had dredged up almost all there were left.

Men like Roberto Rezendez had been barred from taking cod from Georges Bank. The yellowtail and the haddock were also scarce. If men of the seas respected the bans, the Commerce Department promised, the depleted groundfish stocks would replenish themselves. In ten years, they said. Some species in five. But what was a fisherman to do with himself during those five years?

Other draggers turned to scallops, but the scallop beds were being taxed by the new boats. And it cost money to refit a boat for scalloping. Some Innsmouth men went after lobster, but it was too labor-intensive. Lobstermen still caught lobster the way lobster was caught a century ago, in traps and pots that had to be laid down in the morning and taken up at night. Poachers were a problem for the lobstermen. Roberto Rezendez would have nothing to do with lobsters, which his great grandfather would grind up for fertilizer, he thought so little of the rust red ocean crawlers.

So he fished on, farther and farther out, taking as his primary catch the junk fish he used to toss back into the water dead. Instead of tender cod or delicate flounder, he harvested chewy pout, or cusk or butterfish or froglike monkfish and lumpfish. People ate them now. They cost as much per pound today as had cod or yellowtail two decades ago.

But it was a living. And as the Santo Fado muttered around the protected areas of Georges Bank, Roberto engaged the sonar scope that made finding fish such a pleasure.

His two older sons took tricks and the wheel while Roberto, now forty-nine and bent of back if not of spirit, hovered over the greenish fish-finder scope as it pinged and pinged forlornly.

They were cruising at a mere dozen knots now. Salt spray, whipped by the steady wind, deposited a rime of ice on the radar mast and gallows and netdrum reels. From time to time Roberto knocked it off with a boat hook. Too much ice could capsize a trawler like the Santo Fado if allowed to build up.

It was while seeing to the ice encrusting one of the matched cable-drum reels that Roberto heard the sonar scope begin pinging wildly. Giving the huge steel drum a final ringing crack, Roberto rushed to the scope, boat hook in hand.

"Madre!" he muttered, reverting to the traditional curse of his ancestors.

"What is it, Father?" asked Carlos, the eldest.

"Come look. Come look at what your forefathers lived for, but never saw with their own eyes."

Carlos bustled back while Manuel remained at the wheel. He was a good boy, was Manuel. Steady. Light on his feet on the pitching deck. He had fishing in his blood. His blood was fated to be thwarted, Roberto knew. He would not fish past his thirtieth birthday. That was how sad the state of the family-operated fishing enterprise had become.

The screen showed a vast mass shaped like a saucer. Over a mile long, it was composed of closepacked synchronized blips.

Roberto lay a finger against the screen and whispered, "Cod."

"So many?"

Roberto nodded fervently. His finger shifted. "See these large blips forward? These are the mature ones, the scouts. The others maintain a constant body width between them. This way they are always in sight of one another, should danger threaten."

"Amazing." There was respect in the boy's voice. Then he asked a question. "What do we do?"

"We will follow them. Perhaps they will lead us to a place where they can be legally taken."

"Is there such a place?"

"This is to be our last haul. There are places that are legal and there are places that are not so legal. Perhaps Our Lady of Fatima will smile upon us, on this our last haul."

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