News & Politics

“Swordfish Whisperer” Linda Greenlaw Says Swordfish Is Back and Lobsters Are Booming

The famed seafarer visited the Hamilton to talk fish.

Commercial fishing boat captain Linda Greenlaw during a small seafood lunch at the Hamilton. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

Once upon a time—basically the 1980s—swordfish was the trendy food of the US culinary
scene. It seemed to be in every cookbook, on every backyard grill and every restaurant
menu—which led to overfishing and a challenge to the swordfish population. A Give
Swordfish a Break boycott was started, and the US National Marine Fisheries Service
launched a swordfish protection plan. That was the late ’90s. Today, according to
one of the nation’s best-known and most successful commercial fishing captains, swordfish
are back, and no one needs to feel politically incorrect about eating them.

“While I thought [the boycott and protection plan] was misguided at the
time, I can say my experience the past three years I swordfished is entirely different
from what I was catching” before, says
Linda Greenlaw, who is known as America’s only female swordfishing captain. She was the featured
guest at a lunch Wednesday at the Hamilton, part of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group,
which will be offering her branded Linda Greenlaw swordfish on the menus at all its
restaurants. She’s proud of her catch. “Anything you buy that has my name on it is
100 percent maximum sustainable yield,” she says. “It’s going to be from the North
Atlantic ocean. It’s a long-line fish . . . and 90 percent of the boats we are sourcing
fish from are using circle hooks,” which she calls a “huge tool” in rebuilding the

Greenlaw’s measure of the rebound of the swordfish population, she says, is size.
She says that before the enforced regulations her catch had shrunk down to an average
of about 100 pounds per fish. “The average fish of the past three years is 170 to
200 pounds.”

Greenlaw makes her home in Maine. When she’s not at sea—often for as long as a month
at a time—she writes best-selling books and appears on the Discovery Channel program

Swords: Life on the Line. She was also a key figure in Sebastian Junger’s book
The Perfect Storm, which told the story of the fatal voyage of the
Andrea Gail in a catastrophic Atlantic superstorm. Greenlaw was out in that storm, too, trying
to maintain radio contact with her friends on the
Gail, to warn them of the growing intensity of the storm. In the film of the book, she
was portrayed by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. She said that wasn’t the worst storm
she’d ever experienced, but she wasn’t in the worst part of it—her friends were, grappling
waves reportedly as high as 100 feet.

Greenlaw describes herself as a reluctant celebrity. When
The Perfect Storm was published to much acclaim, publishers started to come after her, too. “I was
very happy with my female fisherman thing, and had no interest, desire or aspiration
to write anything,” she says. But major publishers in New York City kept calling to
ask her to write a book. She recognized it was an opportunity most people would beg
for. She wrote her first nonfiction book,
The Hungry Ocean, in 1999, followed by
The Lobster Chronicles in 2002,
All Fishermen Are Liars in 2004, and
Lifesaving Lessons in 2013; she has published two cookbooks with her mother; and also has written two
Slipknot and
Fishermen’s Bend. Still, she finds time to go to sea.

During the lunch, she told us some interesting facts about swordfish. For example,
the most desirable swordfish is called a “bullet,” because it is so fresh and healthy
that the flesh is rigid. Swordfish caught in foul weather isn’t as high quality as
fish caught in fair weather, because in a storm the fish can get banged around and
bruised. Swordfish are “highly migratory” but do not spawn in the North Atlantic.
They go south, to the Caribbean, and Greenlaw follows them there. “When I fish down
there I get fish with a lot of eggs,” she shared. She described life at sea as long
periods of boredom broken up by spells of excitement. But the important takeaway:
“Swordfish are fun. They are a fun fish to catch. They are colorful. Beautiful. It’s
a challenge to catch a swordfish but worth it.”

Her life is not only swordfish, however. Her husband is building her a new fiberglass
lobster boat, and she’s looking forward to day trips for lobsters, a crop which she
says has become robust. “It was big the year before, bigger last year and even bigger
this year,” she says. “It’s because of global warming. They are shedding twice. We
have soft shell lobsters in October. We’ve never had that before.” She anticipates
a continued boom in the lobster population.

We had to ask: Does she eat fish every day, or never? “About four days a week,” she
said. And how does she like her swordfish? “The best preparation is a little bit of
olive oil, salt, and pepper and on the grill.”