There you were, early in the morning on a foggy day about 10 miles offshore of Montauk, slowly trolling for tuna, when from out of the mist came the sound of human voices chanting in a kind of hypnotic drone. How strange.
The scene was otherwordly, but became commonplace in the early 1980s. Back then, by virtue of the subtle vicissitudes of the Gulf Stream, its swirling eddies and meanders, as well as the abundance of forage fish in our neck of the maritime woods, giant bluefin tuna were feeding well within range of Montauk boats.
Bluefin in the 300 to 1,200-pound range were caught with regularity. When landed, the fattiness of their flesh was assessed by sushi connoisseurs. Auctions attended by knowing buyers were held nearly every day in Montauk Harbor. The highest bidders carefully iced their fish, loaded them into air-freight containers, and shipped them to the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo.
It was a high-flying time in the growing market for sushi-grade tuna. Fishermen received upward of $10,000 each for their bluefin catches.
The offshore chants came to mind on Sept. 2, the day the Rev. Sun Myung Moon died in South Korea. Mr. Moon, founder of the Unification Church, a businessman and self-proclaimed messiah, was known for officiating at the simultaneous marriage of thousands of couples and for founding The Washington Times newspaper. Much of his success stemmed from popularizing sushi in the United States, which became his mission after having a “revelation” while fighting a giant bluefin off Gloucester, Mass.
Happy World was the name of his tuna fishing and shipping business, which began in Gloucester, a city whose name was and is synonymous with commercial fishing. Over time, the city became uneasy with the cult-like trappings that accompanied the economic boom resulting from Mr. Moon’s revelation. In 1982, Mr. Moon was convicted of falsifying federal tax returns and served 13 months at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Conn.
But his vision spread to Montauk and other coastal ports, where crews of his disciples took 25-foot-long open boats to sea with handlines to catch bluefin. Mr. Moon’s fish-packing venture for species other than tuna, called Internationnal Oceanic Enterprises, had a business arrangement with Mid-Atlantic Seafood Buyers Ltd., which had a dock on East Lake Drive in Montauk.
“During the tedious waiting for a tuna to strike, the people complain and fight, but when the tuna bites they are instantly united as one. I have never seen such unification! That is the unification spirit I am trying to promote, so rather than just talk about it, I particularly want Unification people to come from all over the world and experience it,” Mr. Moon said on July 13, 1980, reading from a description of his vision titled “The Way of Tuna,” which he presented to followers at Belvedere, his estate in Tarrytown, N.Y.
“I view tuna as an offering, and I am in a position as a chief priest to offer it to God. I seldom eat a tuna I have caught because I see it as a sacrifice for the sake of mankind. In the Old Testament the priests killed the burnt offerings on the altar, and blood was shed,” Mr. Moon said.
“I think that if [fishermen] loved America the way they do fishing, it would have become the Kingdom of Heaven a long time ago. I always think that if Americans have that kind of heart and soul, why not harness it for kingdom building?”
“This year I have saved and numbered the tail fins of the tuna I have caught,” Mr. Moon told his followers. “When they are preserved, each state center will have one. When people look at those fins, they can feel they are looking at the future food messiah who will solve the food problems of the world. Since I am so enthused and have so many plans about the ocean, anyone who comes to the Unification Church cannot help but pay attention to the ocean. Would you like to go to sea?” he asked.
Mr. Moon said he had received his calling from Jesus at the age of 16. He came to see bluefin tuna as the marine embodiment of Abel, the shepherd son of Adam and Eve.
“For seven years, I have been going to the ocean and praying out there, early in the morning and late at night. . . . When you think of the ocean you think about the movie ‘Jaws’ don’t you? Now, instead of thinking a shark will use you as his food, you can think you will use the shark to feed the world. Not only men, but women will do it also. That is a longstanding goal of mine.”
Mr. Moon went on to lay out his plan to buy up naval vessels rendered obsolete following the end of the cold war and the defeat of communism, a goal close to his heart. “Naval vessels will be used by us as mother boats harvesting resources of the sea. An aircraft carrier is like a floating island. . . . We will have radios, so I can command our worldwide fleet from one flagship, directing each ship around the world.”
In Montauk, his boats docked at the Offshore Sports Marina on West Lake Drive. A Happy World buyer had an office there. Norma Bock, who runs the marina today, was there back in the ’80s, and has fond memories of those days.
On Monday, she recalled that the boats were built by Mr. Moon’s subsidiary, True World. She remembered Andy, a Happy World buyer whose surname she could not recall. He had married a girl from the Midwest, Ms. Bock recalled, in one of Mr. Moon’s group weddings.
Tragically, the buyer was killed in a car crash en route to Gloucester after dropping off a container of bluefin tuna bound for Tokyo at Kennedy Airport. Ms. Bock said she attended the funeral in Tarrytown, a ceremony that Mr. Moon and leaders of Happy World flew from Kodiak, Alaska, to attend. “I was happy to be a part of that,” she said.
“Christian ministers are very interested in their honor and future, but I am crazy about salvation of the world, about how I can feed the world population. How I can help this nation,” Mr. Moon told his disciples on that July day in 1980. “It is a beautiful day today, the best day for tuna fishing. . . ”