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Fish of the North: Overview - Fauna
Written By: Elizabeth Barrette (Writer)
Fish are an important food supply in the North. Here is an overview of major fish types and detailed descriptions of some individual species.

The North is home to many species of fish, much like Alaska. The Upheaval killed off some species that were obligate migrants, but most fish either do not migrate or can handle a moderate range of mobility (such as between a river and the sound). Different species live in the salty water of the Northern sound and the fresh water of the rivers, creeks, lakes, and ponds.

Some major fish species are described here and in related articles; there are many others. Eggfish are caught primarily for their roe, unlike most fish valued for their meat. Glacier pike are cold-loving predators. Gray cod are large saltwater fish. Lampfish are enormous fish sought for their oil rather than their meat. Rockfish comprise numerous species of bottom-dwelling fish in the sound. Salmon are larger fish, and trout are smaller fish, closely related and both spanning freshwater and saltwater with some major fish runs in the summer. Soakers are huge saltwater fish considered "big game." Whiskerfish are scavengers.

Fish form an important part of the Northern diet. Itadesh and Itakith frequently send teams of ice-fishers onto frozen lakes; sometimes people go down to the sound, though travel can be difficult and hazardous there. Itrelir occasionally sends people out for ice-fishing on frozen lakes. Due to the thicker ice layer on inland waters, Itrelir fishers watch for natural holes in the ice caused by underwater hot springs, which also attract wildlife. Shallow streams and ponds freeze solid in winter, making them unsuitable for ice fishing; larger rivers may stay unfrozen in the deepest parts. During the summer gathers, fish runs of various salmonid species form a major attraction and the Northerners benefit from concentrating their population to take advantage of this food source.

Fish meat may be prepared in many ways. Popular cooking methods include baking, frying, grilling, roasting, and steaming. Fish can also be cut up and mixed with other ingredients to make soup, fish cakes, or other dishes. Some types of fish are best eaten fresh. Other types lend themselves well to preservation by salting, smoking, or drying. Throughout much of the year, fish may also be frozen.

Fish Species

Eggfish or yigirth resemble the Terran lumpsucker. The name yigirth derives from yirg (egg) and irth (fish). They are dark bluish-gray, fading to white underneath. The body is lumpish and rounded with a flattened ventral side, as the fish spend most of their time on the bottom. They are poor, slow swimmers with small fins. Wartlike tubercules appear in rows along the head and the sides of the body. They measure 1-2 feet and weigh up to 5 pounds. Eggfish can also bloat up when threatened, to discourage predators. They eat crustaceans, molluscs, worms, and other bottom dwellers.

As the name implies, these fish are harvested primarily for their roe in Kethimev, caught with pole and line or trot-line. Early in the season, the roe is kept in its lumpish sac and fried. Near spawning, the eggs will separate and may be eaten similarly to caviar. This is a valuable food source rich in fat, protein, and trace elements. It can be eaten fresh or preserved in salt for later use.

The flesh of eggfish is leathery and not really edible. However, when stripped and rotted, it makes excellent and durable stinkbait for catching certain other fish or for baiting traps aimed at land scavengers. Sometimes the carcasses are processed for fertilizer.

Glacier pike or torj tolursh emra resemble the Terran northern pike. The name comes from torj (pike), to(l)- (slow) and ursh (ice), and emra (near). A typical body is cobalt to midnight blue, with a white snowflake pattern; however, white individuals with pale blue markings also appear. They measure 4-5 feet and weigh 50-60 pounds. Their lifespan is 15-30 years.

These fish live in lakes, rivers, and streams. In hot weather they retreat to glacier-fed waterways, sometimes going dormant in the cold water until the weather grows more temperate again. They prefer clear water with plenty of underwater cover such as water plants, large rocks, tree roots, brush, etc. Young pike also require places to hide from potentially cannibalistic adults. The adults spawn in spring, producing sticky eggs that adhere to underwater objects.

Glacier pike are carnivorous, aggressive, and inclined toward large prey. They eat other fish, amphibians, birds, and small mammals. They are ambush predators, relying on a good hiding place and swift attack. They have sharp, backward-pointing teeth that provide a good grip on struggling prey.

Glacier pike are most often caught with a gig-spear, although they can be caught by hand or with hook and line. They are exciting fighters when hooked on a line, much enjoyed by people who fish for fun. There is not much meat on a glacier pike, but the sweet white flesh is a favorite for cold lunches in summer.

Gray cod or dern delinarn resemble the Terran Pacific cod. The name comes from dern (cod) and delina (gray). They are mottled greenish-gray shading to a pale gray belly, with chin barbels. They measure 2-3 feet and weigh 12-15 pounds. They usually live 10-12 years. They are the most abundant and desirable of the groundfish in the sound.

Their bland white flesh is good as a staple food because it dries easily and blends well with other flavors. It is often used as a trail food or cooked into fish soups. In summer, fresh pieces are fried with a crispy coating of crumbs and spices. The moist flesh also lends itself well to grilling or roasting. Healers harvest oil from the livers as a dietary supplement rich in vitamin A, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. Gray cod are caught year-round with fishing poles or trot-lines.

Lampfish or uselmirth somewhat resemble the Terran basking shark. The name comes from uselm (lamp) and irth (fish). They are gray on top shading to white underneath. They measure about 20-25 feet and weigh several thousand pounds; at least one topping 30 feet and 8,600 pounds is known to have washed ashore. They can live up to 100 years.

Lampfish are filter feeders that feast on plankton and krill, spending much time at the surface of the water. The body is cylindrical with large fins. The huge mouth takes in vast quanties of water and tiny food, filtered through the gill arches. It is fairly easy to harpoon lampfish while they are exposed at the water's surface. They are also commonly harvested when they wash up dead on a beach, as the valuable oil goes rancid very slowly.

This species provides an important source of oil for lamps, burning bright and clear with minimal smoke or odor. Other fish oils may be used but are notably inferior. One fish can yield 100-400 gallons of oil! This is not a very meaty fish, and produces edible quantities only because it is so big. (For this reason, only a ravenous sea monster will bother hunting lampfish.) The flesh adheres to the cartilaginous skeleton, which is usually hacked into pieces and used to make stock, cartilage and meat and all. The tough skin with its raspy denticles is prized for making boot soles that grip slippery surfaces, mitten palms for holding slimy fish, and tools for scrubbing or sanding.

Soaker or otelert is a bottomfish resembling the Terran halibut. The name comes from ot- (thing that does) and elet (to soak, to get wet). As a flatfish, it has both eyes on one side of its head, and spends much of its time lying on the bottom. Usually the top side is mottled gray while the bottom side is white, providing camouflage from above and below; but pure white fish are not rare. Soakers spawn in deep water during winter, with peaks in the middles of Yushimev and Marimev. Females can lay several million eggs per year! Males typically mature around 7-8 years, living about 30 years; females mature around 10-12 years, living about 40 years.

They are enormous, growing over 8 feet long and weighing over 700 pounds. Typical size is several hundred pounds; "small" for a soaker is less than a hundred. They are the largest of all flatfish and among the largest saltwater fish. This makes them a staple food for many sea monsters; seals, salt mink, and other fish will eat young ones. Soakers are very opportunistic feeders who will eat just about anything that fits into their mouth including cod, salmon, the fry of soldierfish and weed-eaters, crabs, shrimp, seal pups, carrion, and garbage. They are not terribly picky about water quality either.

The soaker is not a hobbyist's fish, but relies on the skill and strength of dedicated fishers. It is quite risky to go out on the sound in big canoes, due to the presence of sea monsters; but it's possible to haul in a massive amount of meat very quickly, so people may consider it worthwhile. On a good day the sea monsters will fill up on soakers and leave the fishers alone. Major hunting trips for soaker are usually organized in years when the salmon run and/or shagback hunting has been poor, or there is some other need to stock up in a hurry. They can be caught individually with hook and pole -- remember, one fish can equal a successful hunt! -- but are more often caught with long trot-lines that have many hooks. Trot-lines are set out for 2-20 hours before retrieval.

These fish are valued for their delicate sweet flavor. They yield vast quantities of pure white meat that is firm and flaky. A superb source of high-quality protein and minerals, it contains very little sodium, fat, or calories. The meat is also easy to separate from the bones. Versatile in cooking, it may be baked, broiled, pan-fried, deep-fried, or barbecued over a fire. Because the meat is so low in fat, Northern cooks often add oil, lard, butter, etc. while cooking it. In spawning season, the eggs are also edible; some people like them raw.

Unique among the fish regularly consumed by Northerners, soaker is classified as "big game." It yields about as much meat as a full-grown shagback! It is so large that it gets butchered into multiple cuts, just like other big game. Near the tail lies a dense area of muscle that yields about a dozen thick steaks. The sides are filleted into four large sections called fletches. Finally, the head provides small roundish "cheeks," exceptionally sweet meat that is a prized delicacy. Customarily the fisher gets one cheek to eat, and awards the other to someone else held in high esteem (or good hope). The rest of even an average-sized soaker is enough for a substantial feast. "Small" soakers are often handled more simply, removing a top and bottom fillet that are smoked whole.

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All Related Articles:

Animals of the North: An overview of the animals found in (or near) the territory of the snow-unicorn riders.

Fish of the North: Rockfish: Several species of rockfish form a pleasant accent to the Northern diet.

Fish of the North: Salmon: Salmon form a vital part of the Northern diet and influence summer activities.

Fish of the North: Trout: Trout add a popular delicacy to the Northern diet, and are fun to catch.

Fish of the North: Whiskerfish: Whiskerfish are among the North's more unusual and interesting aquatic life.

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