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Sea of Heartbreak: An Extraordinary Account of a Newfoundland Fishing Voyage

by Michael Dwyer

Despite Farley Mowat’s heavy-handed introduction, Sea of Heartbreak is a straightforward, harrowing tale of a commercial fishery gone horribly wrong. Michael Dwyer, a Newfoundland fisherman, is a first-time author, and that shows here. His prose is occasionally overblown, and the remembered dialogue he reports is windy and unlikely. But the importance of Dwyer’s message, and his passion for it, make up for a lack of flawless prose and deftly written dialogue.

Dwyer details a six-week turbot-fishing voyage to Ungava Bay in Labrador, and with it gives a stirring account of humanity’s continued violence against nature. He writes passionately about the carnage he witnessed – from the many sea creatures killed in the giant nets used to fish turbot to the actual bags of garbage and too-ripped-to-mend nets left to pollute the sea. His fellow fishermen, he laments, have precious little respect for the land and sea they rely on for their living.

Though Dwyer’s polemic seems shrill at times, his message is vital. Fishermen in Newfoundland have long been forbidden to fish on a small scale to feed their families, but the commercial fishery, which brings more devastation to fish stocks than hook-and-line fishers ever could, is allowed to continue.

Sea of Heartbreak’s narrative might have been improved by less ship-life detail in the first half, and more denoument following Dwyer’s decision to stand up to his fellow fishermen. Near the end of the journey, Dwyer realizes he must bring to the public an account of what he has seen. But the story ends all too swiftly, leaving the reader curious about the implications of his decision. Will Dwyer be ostracized by his community for saying what he must say? Will what he has to say change things? For the issues it does cover, though, Dwyer’s book is worth reading.