Who doesn’t know Miffy? Whole generations have grown up with it and lulled it to sleep. If you see a bunny hopping in the yard, you immediately hear Crosby Stills Nash & Young, “Our house is a very, very, very fine house…” But do you say rabbit against a Greek fisherman, a red haze appears acutely before his eyes.
That’s right. After my unforgettable kayaking expedition in Rif Morocco, before winter knocks on the door, I wanted to quickly embrace the warm, southern sea. Drifting from the shore, into the blue unknown light, thousands of lanterns, descending in glorious silence the deep. You forget corona. You forget Ajax and Putin.
It became Crete. Kayak fishing stuff packed up and checked in again and six hours later I settled in cute Limnes where time had stood still and sun-ripened oranges and grape vines surrounded me like garlands. Full of devotion I scoured the coastal strip, one beautiful beach after the other, sensations to drive you crazy, but: a very meager harvest. Writting bass here, wrasse there, weever here, puffer fish there; even a cat would starve.
How is it possible, Crete, so rich and yet so fish poor?
All local fishermen pointed the same finger at the same perpetrator: the rabbitfish. The ultimate nightmare of any Mediterranean fisherman, the Cretans lead the way as they are the closest geographically to the Suez Canal.
That’s right. Due to the warming of seawater, this exotic puffer fish, which is not endemic, has steamed en masse from the Red Sea via the Suez Canal towards the Méditerranée. There he eats everything that swims loose and stuck. When I went fishing for a day on the boat of Yannis the Cretan I saw how he hooked a rabbitfish for the hundredth time and stabbed it in the head for the hundredth time and threw it back. Oh, how he hated this gnat, with his razor-sharp and far too large front teeth that, like a rabbit, stick out and gnaw through lines and gobble fish away as if they were porridge.
The rabbitfish itself is inedible because at least as poisonous as its half-brother the pufferfish (after the poison dart frog the most poisonous animal on earth). They fell a farm horse. Yannis told me the story of three tough Dutchmen who caught a huge rabbitfish a few years ago and grilled it festively on the grill. Two died on the spot, the third was paralyzed. In the meantime, countless fishing families have closed their centuries-old trade and sought refuge in tourism.
In a square near Heraklion, high on a hill, rose the stately statue of Poseidon, patron of the sea and fishermen. Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought I saw a tear roll from his eye.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of December 7, 2021