The scorching sun and the rising mercury levels have caused a fall in the water level of the Perur tank. And this has led to multiple species of migratory birds congregating there. The reason for this will also delight Coimbatore’s seafood lovers.
On my way to Kovaipudur about a month ago, a shack selling fish caught from the tank caught my eye. There was also a pile of something that had long whiskers. The usual Catfish caught in the water tanks around Coimbatore have whiskers but these seemed to be unusually long. So I stopped the car and walked closer.
And I couldn’t believe my eyes. I spoke casually to the man behind the counter, as I did not want him to hike the price. At first, he said it was lobster! Of course, it was not. I corrected him and said it’s called “scampi”.
Scampi is not sold frequently in Coimbatore. In fact, I have never seen it at the local fish market. Also it does not feature in the restaurant menus either in our city or in other metros. It takes a backseat compared to fish, prawns and crab, not for lack of taste but due to availability.
I have bought scampi from fishermen and local shacks in and around Kochi. These are caught in the Vembanad Lake and sold in the small shacks around the lake and also in the bigger fish markets in the city.
Although it is a shellfish, it is found in freshwater bodies. It is very large compared to the regular prawn. Many may confuse these with lobsters due to the presence of claws. They have distinct blue claws that are smaller than a lobster’s, but the rest of the body resembles that of a prawn.
Scampi also refers to a dish of prawns made with butter and white wine.
On further investigation, I found out that these delicious creatures, which we call Scampi in India, are actually called Giant River Prawns in many Southeast Asian countries.
In Thailand, Vietnam and Philippinesthey are often grilled, with the shells and heads intact. It makes for an eye-catching presentation when served on platters. These giant prawns can sometimes weigh over 300gm each.
The Perur tank is among the cleaner water bodies in Coimbatore. Fisheries and other income-generating activities will encourage the local population to take the onus to keep our water bodies clean.
These tanks contain water through the year except for occasional periods of drought. Conservationists in the city admit that the fisherfolk sometimes alert them to illegal dumping of waste and debris, which helps them take action against those breaking the law.
Kannan, the contractor who holds fishing rights in the Perur Tank, says, “About 15 different varieties of fishes are bred in the Perur tank. Common carp, Tilapia and silver fish are some of the favourites. Young fish are bought from breeding farms in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and let out in these water bodies to grow. The giant river prawns are being bred here on an experimental basis at the moment.”
Earlier, water bodies were not just a source of drinking water. Reeds from the banks were woven into mats and fish and shellfish were food items.
Today, in many places, local water bodies are either contaminated or bone-dry, either considered landfills or used as playgrounds.
Reviving these water bodies will not only require conservation efforts but also involve engaging the local community and providing them with a means of livelihood and inculcating a sense of onus and pride.