Shirley Spear wrote a great piece in yesterday’s Sunday Herald about Scotland’s National Dish – the mighty fish supper. Spear makes a great case for the provenance and general superiority of this most popular of cairry-oots, despite its frequent greasy tastelessness. Her alternative is a bit posh for most of us but sounds delicious – and I applaud her for giving explicit instructions on how to cook, i.e. kill, the beast. Not for the faint-hearted.
Meantime my friend Marian and I have been down to North Berwick to visit Scotland’s first and only lobster hatchery. It seems that most lobster fisheries are all but fished-out, with newly-hatched lobsters having a 1 in 20,000 chance of surviving to adulthood. In their microscopic state, they are simply hoovered up as fish food; and as they grow, they are aggressively cannibalistic, and eat each other. So Jane McMinn and her fishing colleagues developed the idea of a nursery where lobster eggs (or ‘berries’) would be hatched out and kept in relatively safe conditions, protected from predators including each other, till they were big enough to be re-released into the sea – usually at about 12 weeks old. The signs are positive that this will make a huge impact on the sustainability of the lobster population in the Firth of Forth; although it will be many years before this can be fully established. Meantime the hatchery is largely dependent on charity to stay in business.
Local fishermen are committed to the programme, and are paid a fair price for bringing in a ‘berried hen’. This one on the left was brought in while we were listening to the process from a local volunteer. Obviously this is in their interest, with lobsters currently costing about £30 per kilo, or £21.95 for a whole cooked lobster (the Highland version). Lobsters have never achieved great popularity with the Scottish public, and over 90% of the catch is generally exported to France, Spain and Portugal.
I wonder how far a lobster can swim? Back at Cupar Farmer’s Market last weekend I came across this beastie on a stall run by another Firth of Forth crustacean-catcher, but this time on the opposite (northern) coast of the Forth. Clement Boucherit is based near Pittenweem and has been running his business here for the last three years. I bought some langoustines and they were packed freshly into a box of crushed ice, very convenient.
Any project that enhances sustainability is a great thing; but I’m wondering at the likelihood of funding continuing for something which benefits so few people. Unless of course we can all be persuaded to extend our culinary comfort zones next time we feel like cooking something very special (and expensive) for supper. This Friday (2nd June) has been designated National Fish and Chip Day – no lobster for me, but I’ll certainly make a point of celebrating in an appropriate manner. With mushy peas of course.