Friday, March 30, 2012

Anchovies And Other Fish: Waste Not, Want Not

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.


Anonymous said...

Actually the anchovies are boiled first before being put out to dry in the sun. The same goes for shrimps, cuttlefish & fish etcetera...Eduard

khunbaobao said...

Thanks for the addition, Eduard.

I didn't include all of the details in the story, but I've gone back and changed the order of the words to "processed, dried and ground up" instead of "dried, processed and ground up" to put it in a little more logical order.

Good to hear from you - thanks again for joining in.

Anonymous said...

I like this type of article. There are lots of rude Thailand sites with fake junk but yours feels real. I can read it at work too LOL.

Was Once said...

Aren't they used for fish sauce? I do love the small fish they fry and eat them as chips and I think they are them as well! Yum SAAP
My partner is amazed how easy of an eater I am, I just avoid the extreme fishy Issan dishes.

khunbaobao said...

I'd have to look that one up. Anchovies can be used for fish sauce (a old Vietnamese boyfriend said it was "back home"), but my guess would be that would be before drying. Maybe not. Anyone know?

G+N said...

Hi - Go Chanthaburi! Our favourite part of the country, we're 10km inland from the coast, Tha Mai between Chan City and Chao Lao.
But I don' lik anchovies! Crabs are great tho'

khunbaobao said...

Thank you for that, G+N. You have a lot of interesting photos on your site, too!

ciau n kiaw said...

hi baobao,can I ask about the address of salting anchovies in Chanthaburi

khunbaobao said...

I didn't visit a factory, Ciau n kiaw, but saw it along many, many roads along the way through the area. What I saw were "Mom and Pop" operations, for the most part. I'm fairly sure they sell their end product to processors, but don't know who. Sorry I don't have a better answer than that, but you'll see similar operations if you go there - a trip I'd recommend!