The Fish Story

Things That Go Bump in the Water; A Cut Below the Rest at Sushi Class

A Bump With a Fin Attached
By JAY MANN | Aug 13, 2019
Photo by: Supplied DOORMAT: James Schluter shows a 30-inch fluke taken from the bulkhead near Andy’s at the Light. It is one of the largest fluke ever caught there.

Surf City — Can we talk sharks … again? This chat has some local color to it, as in brown and maybe white (sharks).

I’ve been taking email and Facebook message hits from folks passing on a news report about a shark bump felt by a waverider in the surf off Ship Bottom. It occurred last May and was appropriately reported to a Princeton shark attack-monitoring firm. A what?! Just go with flow.

Paul Sykes, 67, a former-lifeguard and lifelong waterman, was bodyboarding LBI’s waters when an on-the-move subsurface something or other knocked him off his board. The knock-off included a nearby fin appearance.

Per published e-reports, Paul was about 80 yards from the beach, mildly kicking about on his spongy board. His upper torso and arms were resting on the board, as is typical awaiting-waves posturing when boogie-boarding. His posture then got a jolt by something large enough to, well, jolt him clean off the board – and drive him three feet away from it. He was also driven slightly under water. When he surfaced, he saw a 12-inch high fin near the board.

Using his leash, he pulled the board back, remounted and began a hasty retreat toward shore. He suffered no injuries, short of that “What just happened!?” aftereffect thing.

NO BIGGY?: As it stands, such a waverider/shark meet-up is anything but unlikely. We have enough cruising sharks out there to open a shark-petting farm. (Hmmm.) The hugely dominant local species is the deemed-harmless brown shark, also known as a sandbar shark. But would an assumed non-man-biter ram a bodyboarder that dang hard? Absolutely. That’s just what sharks do. They are notorious for just such bump-and-run behavior. In fact, such nudging is a daily activity for what Aussies have nicknamed the “men in gray suits” – gray suits, for short.

For gray suits, the bump maneuver is often merely a curiosity thing. However, on some unhappy human occasions, it is also a prelude to a take-a-bite thing, especially when a nastier shark’s bump routine elicits a panicked reaction common to prey. That merits the almost laughably inexecutable mandate to “remain calm” when a shark is only inches away, possibly eying you with bad intent. “OK. Stay calm. … Geez, I wonder what’s good on TV tonight?” Try “Shark Week.”

Bodyboards and surfboards seem an irresistible curiosity to many a shark. To be sure, that curiosity has ended badly in some cases, with the U.S. leading the world in shark bites on humans, surfers being an all too common entrée.

I’ll repeat that our local brown sharks are kindly – and curious. Bump-ins with browns are likely innocent, though a second bump by any shark is time to question innocence. It’s akin to quickly being bumped twice by the same person on the street, i.e. “What’s your problem, dude?” Oh, there’s good implicit advice. If a shark is bumping you, just get in its face, all “Back off, dude!” Of course, that sounds better than that “What’s on TV?” thing.

My only close-in shark interplay came years back, while surfing off, yep, Ship Bottom. On a day that already had fellow waveriders spying passing sharks, I had a brazen brown pass close enough to rub my right foot. I fully felt its sandpaper skin, prior to seeing it nonchalantly swim past me, then drop back toward the bottom. I dutifully and reflexively yelled out a “Shark!” warning to the dozen or so nearby waveriders, all of whom assumed a “Shark!” posture: lying prone on the board with arms and legs held out of the water – a bit yogic in form. A mere glancing foot rub – even with my follow-up, “The thing touched my foot!” – wasn’t nearly enough to get us out of the water, seeing the waves were exceptional.

And how big was that footsie shark? At first, I pegged it at roughly 100 feet long, as it cruised beneath me. Afterwards, I downsized it a tad, to maybe six or seven feet.

No, it was not a dolphin. They’re fast, smooth-skinned and, well, playful. A buddy and I once had a dolphin lightheartedly spit water on us while surfing in Central Florida. Imagine a big-ass shark sticking its head out of the water and spitting water through a gap in its front teeth. I don’t care how good the surf is; I’m outta there.

I should note that bodyboards seem to be far more likely to garner interest from gray suits, more so than surfboards. Along with more of a bodyboarder’s body showing, including legs and lower torso, there’s the constant kicking action, uncommon with surfboarding. Also, a bodyboarder’s swim fins are a match to real fish fins. Worst of all – and I’ve done massive amounts of bodyboarding time, so I know – there is absolutely nowhere to adequately hide atop a bodyboard. I’ve tried, likely to the utter amusement of any onlooking sharks: “Sam, go bump him again! This is hilarious! Al, come over and check this out.”

This is where I’m required by assorted chambers of commerce to assure you that the odds of you being attacked by a shark are in the same league as winning a multi-million-dollar lottery, though lottery stores are seldom brimming with prowling great whites.

FROZEN TO PERFECTION: Blowfish just aren’t quitting. Tons are being frozen for the coming winter.

I routinely bring up the fact that some of the finest fish you’ll ever eat are thawed products. Fast freezing locks in flavor and freshness. How much freshness? Many cities no longer allow “fresh fish” to be sold at sushi restaurants, NYC being one of them. Only thawed fish can be sashimi-ed, testament to the quality of fast-frozen seafood as opposed to the questionability of what’s professed as “Fresh.”

Please don’t call me out on this, Mr. Local Restauranteur. I know how insanely picky you are when it comes to what you serve hereabouts. That comes from the luxury of being right here in fresh seafood land. At the same time, I’m constantly cautious – but not overtly suspicious – of local groceries with elaborate seafood counters. When going chain store for seafood, it all comes down to trust, a close look-see of a product and the tell-all sniff test. That system offered, I would never make sashimi out of fish that isn’t documentable as utterly fresh, i.e. just flippin’ caught.

Along those lines, a buddy in the food service industry – forced by regulation to use only frozen seafood for sashimi and sushi – slices the still frozen fish … on a meat slicer! Say what!? He says the pieces are see-through thin, as a fine sashimi cut should always be.

I can only cringe at this slicing sacrilege, recalling the brutally embarrassing time I took a “Sushi Class” in Hawaii. I struggled to learn how to accurately and traditionally take frighteningly sharp blades to sushi-grade seafood. Truth be told, I stunk up the place. Oh, I eventually passed the course, but only because the totally insane instructor, fresh from Tokyo, said I somehow – likely using the Japanese word for “blind luck” – managed to consistently make amazing sushi rice. (It was the extra sugar I added.)

As to my perfecting steeped-in-tradition sashimi cuts, I got correctively spatula swacked behind the head by the crazed instructor on too many occasions, none of which did one bit of good. Hey, bulky American fingers just weren’t meant to make those ridiculously precise cuts common to Japanese hands. I should note that beloved-by-others instructor never returned to Hawaii for follow-up classes. Many of my fellow students blamed me for that. Yeh, but who made the best rice, dude?

YUM…GULP: I’ve heard of eating the evidence, but this Fish and Wildlife Enforcement report might take the cake.

This June, NJ conservation police officers were patrolling the Amboys after dark when they noticed headlamps along the bank of the Raritan River in South Amboy. Reconnoitering, the CPOs recognized there was a group of individuals “actively fishing.” And doing damn good … if it weren’t for little things like laws.

At around 11 p.m., the officers moved in on foot to find an actively burning campfire, replete with a cooking striped bass … half eaten. Upon further inspection, “ten striped bass were discovered in the sand between two logs near the group’s campfire.”

After some typical give-and-take questioning, the group eventually admitted to taking part in the feast. Had they only eaten faster, the officers wouldn’t have been able to measure the remaining fish – and find eight bass were under the legal-size limit. Summonses were issued.

I’ll be interested in the fines and such. However, such adjudication information is tougher to come by nowadays.

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