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Fishy business

By Tony Deyal

You've heard about the late James Brown or the "Godfather" of soul, but what about the godfather of Sole or the Codfather? He is Muhammad Shahid Nazir, a Pakistani immigrant to Britain who while engaged in fishy business starred in a viral video and has moved from sardine to shark status. He is now a principal in the global school of fish that follow the moving tides of fad and fashion. Only the hard of herring or the technologically challenged have not heard his million-hit YouTube sensation, "One pound fish" with its immortal lines, "Come on ladies, come on ladies, one pound fish... Have a have a look, one pound fish!"

According to the BBC, the 30-year-old Shahid was born in Pattoki, near Lahore in Pakistan. He used to work for a transport company and has a wife and two young children. About a year ago he left his home town to go to England and got a job in the market — first at an "everything for a pound" stall before he started selling fish a few months ago at a stall in Queen's Market in East London, not far from the Olympic Stadium.

It all started when, on his first day at work, his boss told him to shout out to the customers to catch their eye. He hated shouting so instead he invented a song. Shahid, who used to sing religious songs in his school as well as Bollywood and Punjabi tunes, explained, "I'd been doing the job for just a week before I decided to sing the song which I made up myself. I soon realised it got people's attention and drew them to the stall to buy fish." Shahid has now gone completely upscale and his many customers are not only snapping up his fish but he has been approached by a record company. In the meantime, the BBC says, the song has inspired American boy band Mindless Behaviour and British singer Alesha Dixon has added her own twist to it. Rio Ferdinand, himself a big fish at Manchester United, is also a Shahid fan.

Speaking about big fish, the BBC also ran a story about one of them that fetched a record price in a Japanese fish-market recently. The BBC reported that a single bluefin tuna was sold in Japan for US$1.7m, almost triple the record price of US$736,000 set last year. The price works out at US$3,500 per pound. Other media reports say that the fish's tender pink and red meat is prized for sushi and sashimi. The best slices of fatty bluefin – called "o-toro" – can sell for about US$23 per piece at upmarket Tokyo sushi bars. With a single mouthful-sized piece of sashimi weighing around one ounce, the record breaking tuna is worth around US$223 per bite. On the whole everyone involved will earn significant net profits.

They are better off than the Massachusetts fisherman who caught an 881-pound tuna only to have it seized by the federal authorities. Even though he had permits to fish for tuna, the law says you must use a rod and reel and not a net. The problem is that whatever rod you use to catch a tuna that size, when you try to land the fish it will turn out to be a snapper.

Despite the increasing popularity of sushi-bars or Japanese-styled restaurants in the Caribbean, most West Indians find the idea of eating sushi or raw fish distasteful. In fact, the fishermen I hung out with when I was younger had their own word for sushi. They called it "bait". Interestingly, before nylon line was developed, fishermen used "Marlin" twine.

Other big fish go by different names. A literary big fish would be a Salmon Rushdie and since he went into hiding you can't meet him face-to-face, you have to drop him a line. There are the outlaws and baddies like Billy the Squid and Jack the Kipper. There are Jacks aplenty and there are some weird ones as well. Kids know about these and ask questions like, "What do you call a man with a large flat fish on his head?" Ray. "What do you call a man with a seagull on his head?" Cliff. "What do you call someone who is good at catching fish?" Annette. "What do you call a fish that floats on the surface?" Bob.

What do you call a man who spends long hours in a wooden boat with a plastic reel in his hand, fishing line balanced on his index finger, bits of raw fish and shrimp adhering to his hand, watching his companions drink themselves into a semi-stupor and not catching anything but the drift of flatulence?

I will not carp at whatever name you come up with since you can well be describing me in my younger days and my still enduring love for fishing. As one ancient fisherman said, "Fishing is not just a matter of life and death, it is much more serious than that." The bug first bit me when I experienced the miraculous transformation of dry land, banked for rice-planting, with nothing growing on or in it but tufts of grass, suddenly becoming huge pools full of fish through which we waded barefoot, weighed down with heavy rice stalks and fearful that the eels (which we called "gangies" or "zangies") would bite our toes. I was lucky. My feet were so large and so dirty that the eels preferred other amusement and in the land of calypso formed conger lines.

Later, fishing with my friends in the sea, after finding a "hole" or "spot" full of red snappers we would carefully line it up so we could find the area again on our next trip. Now I no longer have a boat but rent one. Two friends did the same thing and in a rapidly depleting Gulf of Paria were extremely lucky to catch some huge snappers. One said to the other one that they should mark the spot. His buddy leaned over and put a mark on the side of the boat. The first one chided him. "That won't work," he said. "Why?" the other one asked. He replied, "Don't forget we rent this boat and I am sure we will not get the same boat tomorrow."

*Tony Deyal was last seen

talking about the swearing fish. It swam into a wall and said, "Dam."

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