Then I realized that, after not consuming billfish for almost 20 years, I was about to eat a ton of it.
Thirty pounds of it, to be exact, according to the airport scale when I weighed my ice chest. My friend took a few fillets back to Baltimore and we gave the rest, probably close to 50 pounds, to the guide.
I emptied half of my freezer to make room for the marlin, but couldn't bring myself to actually cook it. Instead, I'd stare at it, kicking myself for not cutting the line myself.
But, in the end, I figured throwing the fish away or letting it go bad would only compound my error. So, looking for a little guidance, I called biologists at a few aquariums. They all agreed that releasing the fish would've been the best thing but said not to worry too much. Striped marlin in the Gulf of Mexico are overfished, but a single fisherman with only one pole isn't going to cause an environmental collapse, they said.
They warned against giving it to any pregnant women, since large predatory fish tend to have high mercury levels.
I asked Dana Roeber Murray, a Heal the Bay scientist, if she ever ordered swordfish. After a long silence, she said "no."
"But it's good that you're not wasting it," she added quickly, probably not wanting me to feel any guiltier. "That would be the worst thing to do."
I made some of the fish for friends, who were warned about the menu before they came, smoking a few pounds and cutting the rest into steaks. Sensing my unease, my guests claimed everything was delicious.
The remaining fish was cubed and made into fish burgers, which became an occasional quick weekday dinner.
But as I grilled the last of the burgers a few weeks later while rummaging in the refrigerator for some cheese to melt on top of it for flavor, I came to another realization.
Marlin's really bland, at least to me. Perhaps because I never wanted it in the first place.
Still, I was glad not to have wasted any. Another fishing trip is in the works, and this time I'll be ready to cut the line if I hook another marlin, saving us both.