By Mike on Sunday, August 16, 2009, 21:22 - Permalink
A couple of trips to East Wittering, Bracklesham Bay - in search of the brown shrimp.
Below is the Atomic Shrimp Net (you see what I did there?). it consists of a rectangular frame supporting a large pocket of soft net mesh, carried on a long, strong handle.
At (what will be) the bottom edge of the net, there is a stout wooden plank - I'll explain all about this in a moment...
What Is The Brown Shrimp?
Crangon crangon - a shy little sandy-coloured semi-transparent crustacean that inhabits most the UK shoreline, especially the sandy bits. It grows up to about 7cm long (so not large - in fact truly deserving of the term 'shrimp')
It lives in burrows in the sandy sea bottom - when disturbed, it emerges and tries to escape by flicking its muscular tail.
So to catch it, it is necessary to wade into the shallow water and push the net along the bottom - the wooden bar at the front of the net disturbs the shrimps and they swim up and are captured. Or that's the theory.
The net is periodically dragged back to shallower water for inspection. I strung a plastic milk bottle around my shoulder to put my catch in - not too hard to drop them in - not to easy to spill them out again.
Initially, I only caught a few, but as the tide dropped and more of the flatter part of the sandy bay was accessible in shallow water, the catch increased.
Here's one of just about the minimum worthwhile size - maybe 3cm long.
It was a calm, sunny day, but the occasional big wave threatened to knock me over - and I didn't want this to deprive me of the whole catch.
So I returned to the shore every ten minutes or so to deposit my shrimps into a bucket..
It took me a very long time - something like two and a half hours - of wading about pushing my net, to catch maybe a big double handful of shrimps for my dinner - probably an energy-negative exercise, altogether.
I dropped the shrimps into a pan of rapidly boiling water (this kills them instantly)
They only take about two minutes to cook - at which point they turn a pinkish tan colour.
Eating Brown Shrimp
They're tiny and almost impossible to peel completely - however, the shell is quite delicate (and no doubt somewhat nutritious), so the best way to consume them is just to pull off the head - the tail fan too, if tough - and eat the rest - it's only a bit of crunch.
The flavour is subtle and delicate, but unmistakably shrimpy - they are traditionally eaten with brown bread and melted butter - maybe next time...
An enormous effort for a tiny morsel of food. Pushing that net through the sand for hours on end was really exhausting.
But I'm still glad I did it - just to have tried something new. I reckon maybe there are other places in the UK where the shrimps might be a bit larger and more abundant - which would make it more easily worthwhile.
One of the bycatch items has interesting potential too...
Shrimps were not the only things I caught in my shrimping net that day.
The sandy bay is a perfect habitat for flatfish - and I caught (and carefully released) a dozen or more juvenile flatfish of several species - like this one - which I think is a plaice:
I also caught some small crabs, a couple of little pipefish (eel-like in appearance, but related to seahorses), but most interesting of all... tens of thousands of tiny, juvenile shrimp.
At first, I didn't recognise what they were - I just kept noticing little clumps of transparent, gelatinous mass in the net - which I tipped out again.
But as the tide fell, I began catching a lot more - huge handfuls in every net. A closer examination revealed...
It's made up of thousands of little shrimps - each less than a centimetre long. It may be that the mesh on my net is too fine and should be letting these little 'uns through.
But I can't help thinking this could be a worthwhile food resource - I could have caught pounds of them in half an hour - and I reckon they would be quite edible and tasty if they were boiled briefly and mixed together with some cooked white rice.
I returned for a second attempt a week later - this time to West Wittering beach - and I had a lot more success this time.
I caught more shrimps, and larger ones (including this huge one about 6cm long), in a shorter space of time.
I tentatively attribute this success to a number of factors - read on...
I'm not really sure how significant this is - but my second attempt took place at West Wittering - about a mile along the shore from last week - and close to the mouth of Chichester harbour - it may be that this is just a better place for the shrimps.
This time, I visited just after low tide (last time I arrived as the tide was high and fished in the falling waters).
I hypothesise that as the waters recede across the sands, the shrimps might be moving out to deeper waters to escape stranding on the beach, thus becoming concentrated into a zone just below the low tide level.
I don't mean to boast, but without a doubt, this is something that improves with practice - and a certain degree of finesse is required to get the net digging through the top layer of sand without skimming it superficially, or digging in and stalling.
Getting in some good, long trawls with the net undoubtedly improved the yield.
Depth Of Water
Last time, I concentrated on shrimping in the deepest water I could reasonably work in - waist to chest height. This time, I took a series of experimental runs parallel to the shore at different depths
By far the biggest catches, of the biggest-sized shrimps were taken in water about knee-depth - right near the shoreline.
This surprised me - particularly as this area was teeming with humans. There might be more than one reason for better catches in shallower water though:
Firstly, it might be that the shrimps genuinely do prefer the shallower, warmish edges of the water - maybe the breaking waves are oxygenating the water more, or maybe there's more to eat near the shore, or fewer natural predators or something like that.
But maybe it's also just because shrimping is easier there - with nearly all of my body out of the water, I was able to exert much more downward force on the net - and it could be that when working in deeper water, it's just hard to disturb the sand to a great enough depth to make the shrimps exit their burrows.
Conclusion (This Time)
When the catches are good like this, it starts to look more like a worthwhile food resource - I reckon it was about an even break this time between energy expended and food value netted - and this can probably improve with more practice.