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Hail Rockfish!

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Virginia's "Official" Saltwater Fish


Dealing as they do with weighty matters, the Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday conferred the honor of "official saltwater fish" to the striped bass, otherwise known to Southerners as the "rockfish."

In many ways, this is cause for celebration. Rockfish are extremely tasty and tend to be caught in the cold months, when sustenance is needed. They can be cooked any number of ways, such as grilling, sauteeing and baking. I know a woman who steams them and then serves the fillet bits like a shrimp cocktail. I like to slow-roast mine with winter vegetables.

But there are questions about the rockfish and its haughty designation.

Del. Jackson Miller (R-Manassas) almost killed the catch, saying the lowly and oily menhaden was far more important commercially to the Old Dominion. What's more, it sustained English settlers at Jamestown in hard times.


I, for one, am tired of romanticized survival stories for, frankly, what were a bunch of indulgent gentlemen who lawn-bowled all day. There are other possibilities for the state fish, although not necessarily of the saltwater variety. One is the blue channel cat, which can grow so huge it can swallow a man whole like Jonah. Or the snakehead, a feared invader that a few years back caused the biggest alien invasion scare in D.C. since Klaatu and Gort landed their flying saucer on the Mall in 1951.

The rockfish is a fine fish for the Old Dominion. But others do claim it, too, and it may have Obama-like birthing issues. Consider this passage from a 1994 New Yorker assessment:

"Striped bass are in many respects the perfect New York fish. They go well with the look of downtown. They are, for starters, pin-striped, The lines along their sides are black fading to light cobalt blue at the edges. The dime-sized scales look newly minted, and there is an urban glint to the eye and a mobility to the predatory jaw. If only they could talk, they would talk fast."

But if it could talk, would it say, "I really belong in Virginia?"
 
Peter Galuszka

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