Thursday, 28 March 2013

The beauties of bycatch

 Bycatch is one of the dirty words of sustainable fisheries. I'm fortunate not to have to witness much wastage in my small experience of commercial fishing. The fifteen souls and six boats that work from the nearby port bring in small catches and the unsaleable fish are taken by the fishermen, given to friends or sold. I earn a bag of fish big enough to last me a week for as much work as I feel like doing on Monday mornings. Being fascinated by fish in the sea and on the table as well as the world of fishermen, added to fact that I'll always drop everything to go on a boat of any sort, makes Monday mornings a holiday for me.
 The common torpedo (torpedo torpedo) is not a commercial species. It lives in shallow coastal waters over soft substrates and preys by night on small bony fish and crustaceans. It's downfall in terms of it becoming part of bycatch is its method of attack and defence.

The torpedo can deliver hefty electric shocks, up to 200 volts according to fishbase.org and the wikipedia. The shocks diminish in intensity as the animal dies and cease as it does. It is not practical to attempt to extract the torpedo from the net while it is evidently alive, and even when it appears dead it can often spark up again. And so it can never be returned to the water alive, unless it drops from the net as it comes over the roller and can be teased out through a scupper with the toe of a welly, or grabbed by the tail and flung. It appears to be the torpedo's back that shocks or the distinctive blue spots themselves, I've never touched one in such a way as to be shocked intentionally. Please excuse this lack of scientific fibre, I'm no Stephen Maturin.

Though they are widely thought to be uneatable, fishermen have always cooked them and I've found they make fine food. The difficulty, if there is one, is in preparing them for the pan as you have to peel off the tough skin—a task best performed on the dock, or outside at least. Many fishy jobs can cause havoc in the kitchen. 

Torpedo 'wings' with torpedo livers and sea snails.

5 comments:

doryman said...

Ben,
The fish you've pictured lately are species I have never seen here on the east Pacific coast. I have to admit some reserve if it came to experimentation and would need to depend on someone like you for recommendations. This torpedo, for instance, seems a fish I would pass on, though our lowly flounder is also a strange looking bottom feeder, yet delicious.
I remember days when tuna and salmon were the fish of choice here and bottom feeders were considered uneatable. But no more. A batter-fried rock cod costs real money in a fancy restaurant today.

Ben said...

Michael,
fast swimming migratory fish have always appealed more than those that root in the ooze hence their present sorry state. The more I explore the more I realise that very little is uneatable and that when it comes to taste freshness is the key. Expect to find more dishes from the depths here, including flounder, in the future.
All the best
Ben

Joan said...

Hi everybody,
The Chinese say they eat everything that moves under the sea except submarines.
I know that fish, had a bad experience when I was a child. Torpedo, is a a kind of ray and nobody (fisherman, and local people) eat it nowadays in my own town. I'm writting from an island located on the west Mediterranean. The reason why we don't eat it is because, as you said Torpedo is a very inusual catch and not apreciated on a table too. Anyway we do apreciate other kind of rays and small sharks.
In spite of that something must be said, ancient romans ate that fish, we know it because there is a recipe in Apicius book. You can see it on (book IX seafood)http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29728/29728-h/29728-h.htm
Joan

Angelica Joli said...

very well written blog. you have very good command on writting. i like it.
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Joan said...

Hi,
Let me show you an amazing mosaic from Pompei, where you can catch your fish in a very realistic way, and some other especies from the Mediterranean sea as well.
I hope you enjoy it, and try to fish or intentifiy them.
http:www.trekearth.comgalleryEuropeItalyCampaniaNaplesNaplesphoto653868.htm

Joan