|Commercial fishing boats docked in the Tha Mai area of Chantaburi|
A couple of evenings ago I had the pleasure of hearing a presentation by Jean-Michel Cousteau on how he was carrying on the ecological ideals of his father, the late Jacques Cousteau. During his talk he mentioned visiting a commercial fishing operation in Alaska where they primarily dealt with pollock, specifically the Alaskan or Walleye (Theragra chalcogramma).
There were a couple parts of his story about the processing of the fish that were extraordinary and interesting, I thought: One, not only was the flesh prepared for food consumption, and the innards - or guts - made into balls that were shipped to Japan for feeding eels, but even the bones left over after that were dried and ground into a meal that was being used to decontaminate the land in urban areas that had fallen victim to high levels of lead.
One such area was in Oakland, California, on the Eastern side of the San Francisco Bay. I don't recall the specifics on how it worked, but when it was turned into the contaminated earth, it worked. His point was we should be wasting as little as possible when dealing with tipping the natural balance of things in our oceans. One of his examples of the other end of the spectrum was footage of a large shark having its dorsal fin cut off for specialty soup before being dumped back overboard to bleed to death.
It reminded me of an area in the Chantaburi area where I stayed a few days this month. From my beach-side bungalow I could sit on my front porch, sip my morning coffee and watch larger fishing boats coming in from the gulf as smaller day-trip boats were heading out. My friend's family earned much of what they enjoy today from years of hard work building a good-sized fishing business, and he was a fine source of information for much of what I saw on that trip.
|Anchovies being tended to as they dry in the brutal mid-day sun|
While riding along we saw long stretches of what looked like blue table tops set up in the intense sun, covered with something silvery. Oftentimes there would be people between the tables, doing something with the stuff on top. "You might want to see this," he mentioned in passing one morning, pulling over to the side of the road by some of these flat tables. Once he'd stopped and I'd gotten out of the car to look I could see the "tables" were really blue (and occasionally green) colored drying screen on framework that held them up near waist level. This also gave the air a better chance to circulate beneath the screens, too, naturally, as well as making them easier to work with.
|Anchovies (and a stray squid) drying on a screen|
As you can probably see in the photo above what was on top of the drying screens were anchovies. Smaller than your pinky finger, it seemed like millions of them, along miles of roadway. If someone had a lock on selling that blue screen they're probably living quite well, as are the larger owners of the drying/processing and exporting corporations that send thousands of tons of salted and dried fish out throughout Asia and the rest of the world annually.
|Stirring and turning the anchovies for faster & more even drying|
My friend explained that while many larger boats fished specifically for anchovies some smaller boats did, too, and some ended up with batches by default while fishing for other things. Very few were wasted by careful fishing families, he said. If they weren't used in the production of human food - for example, they'd been held too long for whatever reason - they were still processed, dried and ground up as meal for chicken feed or some other such use.
And now you'll know how some of these tiny fish are processed the next time you have anchovies on a pizza or in some other dish. Have a good weekend, everyone.