When I asked my daughter what I should write about for the last column of the year, she said, “write about a really big fish.” That reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a seafood purveyor about what’s in season and some of the misperceptions about when different species are harvested in Maine. I believe it began with a conversation about scallops, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

For a quick recap about scallops — many people think that Maine scallops are just available in the winter months while, in fact, you can buy Maine scallops year-round. The difference in the scallops you can buy in December is that they come from waters closer to shore — waters that are technically Maine state waters. The scallops that you can find the rest of the year come from federal waters, the area beyond three miles from shore. Regardless, many of these scallops are caught by Maine boats and landed here in Maine.

The same is true for several other species of popular Maine seafood. Lobster is one of the other most obvious of those. In the summer, smaller nearshore boats work the water along the coast. In the winter, larger boats go further offshore to haul up traps that are deeper in the water where the lobsters hang out in the colder weather.

Unlike day boats that leave in the morning, fish all day, and return to shore at night, offshore boats can stay out overnight and sometimes for several nights. Keep in mind that this is in a season where not only are the air and water temperatures frigid, but the seas can be very rough. Winter storms can make a night on a boat pretty unrestful. This is the life of the intrepid fishermen who keep fishing through the winter.

Getting back to the subject of “the big fish,” aside from my conversation with my daughter, the idea for this column came from a trip to a recently opened seafood shop in Freeport, Mainely Seafood Company (just off the highway across from McDonalds at 12 Mallett Drive), which is definitely worth checking out. They source their seafood locally when possible and offer other sustainably harvested species from elsewhere like salmon that are raised in fjords in Norway and shipped to Maine. After first talking about scallops, the owner mentioned that a customer had recently expressed surprise at seeing swordfish on offer.

“Where does swordfish come from this time of year?” she asked, and was surprised that the answer was, “From Maine.”

Like scallops and lobster, the season when these species are harvested closer to shore is the one that people are most familiar with. Swordfish are typically caught in the summer months and are often the prized catch of fishing tournaments. In addition to being very strong and putting up quite a battle to bring on board, swordfish can get really big. The largest one on record was caught in Florida and weighed in at 768 lbs and reached 102 inches in length – nearly 9 feet! These are usually caught using a handline, harpoon, or rod and reel.

But, like many species, swordfish are caught year round by Maine boats that fish further from shore. These boats use a longline — a horizontal line with shorter lines with baited hooks hanging down from it. These longlines can be very long, some including thousands of hooks. The lines are left in the water for several days before pulling them up, which means that the boats are out at sea over several nights. Think of the epic tale told in Sebastian Junger’s book, The Perfect Storm, and you get a sense of the conditions with which these offshore boats sometimes have to contend.

Winter may not be the typical season you’d think of for Maine seafood, but there is plenty to be enjoyed at this time of year. It’s a good time to appreciate the true value of that locally harvested seafood when you consider what it takes to bring it to market from far offshore in the blustery Maine winter.

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