Nothing made Jon Mansur happier than the two words: “I got one!”
It’s what he shouted whenever he saw a swordfish finning – when the fish bask on the surface of the ocean, making it easy for anglers to spot from a distance.
“A lot of people have different passions in their life, but for my dad it was swordfish fishing,” Todd Mansur said of his father, who died on March 11 at the age of 77.
“It’s a thrill that can only be described by doing it,” Todd Mansur said. “It’s called purple fever (because swordfish are purple in water), and it’s such an addiction to this fish.”
On Sunday, a celebration of life was held in Dana Point Harbor for the longtime fisherman, a pioneer in the sport fishing industry and also co-founder of the popular Jon’s Fish Market at the harbor. Local port merchants donated food and flowers for the ceremony and hundreds shared their stories and memories of the gregarious man.
Jon Mansur of San Clemente and his brother, Larry, developed an intricate net system in the 1970s that allowed anglers to haul large numbers of swordfish at once. A decade later, Mansur perfected swordfish spearing, primarily to provide these anglers with an effective alternative to their nets.
As more anglers began to use the giant nets, which function as a sort of cover catching swordfish and everything around them, Mansur first tried adjusting the size of the net weave to solve the problem unintentionally, but eventually he began to argue against their use entirely.
Many other fish and marine mammals were caught.
“My dad and Uncle Larry had environmental concerns,” said Todd Mansur, who grew up fishing with the two and is now a boat captain for Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching.
They invited observers on board their vessels to monitor what was being caught, information that later played a big role in decisions to ban nets except where the ocean is deeper.
Now the nets are rarely used, but observers and data collection remain to help ensure the swordfish fishery remains sustainable, Todd Mansur said.
He said his father quickly turned to swordfish spearfishing because he recognized the future of the industry. In 1979, California had one of its best years for swordfish.
“They were spearing 18 fish a day,” Todd Mansur said of his father and uncle. “And they did it without nets or hooks. When you become a spear fisherman your life changes and it’s a great way to get fish from the boat to the table.
In 1980, Jon and Sharon Mansur opened Jon’s Fish Market. It was a way for Jon Mansur to spend a little more time out of the ocean with his family, but through it he became an even bigger part of the swordfish industry.
“The fishermen wanted information about the fish he was selling and they sold him the fish they caught,” Todd Mansur said.
Each fish was cut by hand and Todd Mansur said he often helped his father, working long hours on days when he was not at school.
Later, Jon Mansur opened Jon’s Seafood where he wholesale processed fish and sold it to local restaurants.
“We would have 5,000 lobsters in tanks in one day,” recalls Shala Mansur-O’Keefe, Jon Mansur’s daughter. “We would have white bass, halibut and swordfish.”
Five years ago, Mansur-O’Keefe earned her captain’s license, landing a job for Trident Seafood in Alaska where she worked on fishing boats in the Bering Sea.
Despite the distance, her bond with her father grew tremendously, she said the two regularly talked about “fish” and her father made sure she knew how to tie specific knots and at what temperature the caught fish had to be preserved.
She also taught her father something he didn’t know, she said, “Never hold a salmon by the tail.”
“Because fish swims one way, muscle in meat only goes one way,” Mansur-O’Keefe explained. “So when you grab it by the tail, you destroy the quality of the fish.”
Both siblings have said they are determined to carry on their father’s passion for the sea. Mansur is heavily involved in fish conservation and still spears swordfish, and Mansur-O’Keefe has taken over management of the harbor fish market.
They will remember their father’s zest for life, they said, and his impact on the fishing community and people who love the sport.
“He was always asking me, ‘Are you having fun? “, Mansur-O’Keefe said. “You always knew he cared. He just had the sweetest heart.
“I will miss him, he taught me to understand things.”
Todd Mansur said he learned to be a “people person” from his father.
“He made sure that every person’s day on the water was their best day ever,” he said. “He was the person you could hear laughing from across the room and you knew exactly who he was.”