Society

Nose for fish

InSeason Fish takes people through the packed fish market at Nochikuppam, educating them about making informed choices on sea food and the importance of eating what is fresh and local

You can both look and touch at the ‘fishploration’. Participants walk through Nochikuppam fish market, learning to identify fish, and gauge freshness by handling anchovies, barracuda, stringrays and more.

“We are making an attempt to educate consumers on seasonal and local fish,” says ecologist Divya Karnad, co-founder of InSeason Fish, which conducted the event. She adds that by teaching people the variety available, they hope to “diversify fish consumption, and gradually bring about a behavioural change.”

Stating that there are over 100 varieties of local fish, but only a few varieties such as seer and pomfret are popular, Divya says “This must change. This walk tries to familiarise people with fresh, local fish; encourage them to eat what is seasonal, and thereby create a market for fishermen who will then be encouraged to sell local fish.”

Nose for fish

At Kasimedu fish market, trawlers return with catch only after 15 days at sea. In Nochikuppam, however, local fishermen spend less than a day at sea. “By opting for local fish, freshness is assured, we get diverse options. These fish offer health benefits too,” says Divya.

The Nochikuppam market is divided into two sections. “As you enter from the Lighthouse side, fishermen who source their fish from Kasimedu set up stalls towards your left. On the right by the road side, local fish caught using small boats are sold in small quantities by fisher women.

“Local fishermen practice safe fishing as they spend no more than four to six hours at sea. While the Kasimedu fishermen focus on huge, popular fish from deep sea, local fishermen catch what is available in that season in a particular location,” she says.

Nose for fish

The next step is to identify the fish. “Sellers can mislead us. So, being able to identify fish will give the sellers an impression that we know what we are buying. You must ask numerous questions and not just go by what they say and be convinced.”

Once consumers learn this, the next step is to find out if the fish is fresh or frozen. There are simple ways to do so. If fish is fresh, it will have clear eyes, glossy skin with a layer of slime, and absolutely no stench.

The market is flooded with seer, pomfret, emperor fish, barracuda, trevally, barramundi and also stingray. “Fisherman can take you for a ride by selling freshwater fish that looks similar to a barramundi. There are also fish which look similar to seer and red snapper, and people end up paying through their nose without realising the difference between the two. Freshwater fish have prominent scales, whereas sea fish usually have a soft body with scales nearly invisible,” Divya explains.

She pauses, along with the group, to watch a seine being dragged to shore by a group of fishermen. Fishermen at Nochikuppam practice shore seine fishing: this method employs a fishing net called a seine, which hangs vertically with its bottom edge held down by weights and the top edge buoyed by floats.

“A group of 25 or more men cast this net, with the help of a boat. The seine is then towed to the beach and with it comes the catch. Locally, this method of fishing is called periya vala or kara vala,” Chaitanya Krishna of InSeason Fish says.

This net usually brings in small fish such as nethili (anchovies), sudhumbu, and karapodi. Watching the nets being pulled to the shore is fascinating, and even more interesting is the way the fresh catch is immediately auctioned off.

“Such fishplorations could transform sea food lovers into responsible consumers. We learn to make an informed choice, and are encouraged to do our homework before we buy fish,” says Narayani S, marine biologist and a volunteer at InSeason Fish, adding, “We must understand that fish is the last wild food that we eat these days, which is why conservation is vital.”

The collective conducts monthly fishplorations in cities like Bengaluru and Mumbai. The next walk in Chennai is towards the end of March. It will be at any of the fish markets located at Nochikuppam, Urur Kuppam, or Semmancheri Kuppam. Watch this space for more details, or follow InSeason Fish on social media.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 12:57:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/nose-for-fish/article30782945.ece

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