The winter trap-caught shrimp fishery just started in Guysborough County. The nine fishermen from Canso who catch these wee crustaceans took a break last night to eat shrimp, drink beer and hobnob with Very Important Haligonians at the Garrison brewery - Ecology Action Centre Shrimp & Brew showcase last night.
Alen Newell's one of these Canso shrimpers. His father started it up after the ground fishery collapsed in the nineties. He applied to the feds for exploratory funding, to see if there was enough shrimp out there to warrant any fishing. Alen was working in Halifax at the time. When his dad's business partner retired, Alen got a call asking him to come back and help out. He did, and it's been lucrative enough for him to stay home ever since.
This trap caught shrimp fishery is uh, small just now. It all fits in Chedabucto bay. "We don't want to overfish and repeat past mistakes." Newell said. "So we had a draw, who won got licenses and that was that." Ecology Action Centre Marine Conservation Coordinator (and Coast cover girl) Susannah Fuller told me they could catch 8-10% of the Scotia-Fundy quota but they haven't worked up to that capacity.
Fuller's spent a lot of time connecting with the fishermen over the last year and a half, trying to boost their profile in the province. "Farmers have gotten more active around local food, but fishermen have not, because Fishermen are not self-employed like Farmers." Fuller said. The usual problem is, they need to go through buyers and most buyers deliver to export markets (largely, the USA), which is why we don't see a wide variety of fresh, local seafood in Halifax.
"We're trying to get them to be a year round fishery and do something good for Canso." The area's economic troubles started long before Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae ran aground. Unemployment hovers around 15% (better than some parts of the province) but outmigration has been tough on a county that numbers under ten thousand bodies. There's been a 17% population drop since 1996, the year the shrimp fishery started.
"This has alterered the common ground between fishermen and environmentalists," Fuller said. "Usually they'd be against a bunch of environmentalists like the EAC because we are against the LNG. But now, we get a warmer welcome. There's more of a sense of pride in what they are doing here." This is anything but natural gas. It's small, sustainable and according to Peter Tydnews, a Dal prof who recently assessed the bay fishery as having one fifth the carbon footprint of other commercial fisheries in the province. It's just 4-5 hours in and out from field to dock, one fisherman told me. And that's what turns on the environmentalists.
What turns on foodies is the taste. These little guys are about three inches long from head to tail. You eat the tail shell, legs and all in one. It's not chewy, just little crispy. Let me reassure the squeamish - it doesn't taste like bugs. In fact, I think all the businessmen, politicians (I spotted Deputy Minister of Agriculture Paul LaFleche pressing the flesh), restauranteurs and green folk ate so many we nearly crawled out of there on our feelers. It tastes like shrimp. Very fresh shrimp. The opposite of what's frozen on a ring at your mother's and is farmed on a hillside in Vietnam.
Chef Renée Lavellée from the Five Fishermen in Halifax flipped her pan of shrimps in Garrison red beer and also did some lightly floured flash fried shrimp. Chef Alan Crosby, of White Point Beach Resort cooked up his shrimp in a sticky garlic ginger chili sauce and a morish low counties sauce that mixed a worcestershire sauce reduction, beer and cream.
How does Newell eat his shrimp back home? "I put them in a pot and boil them just like lobster. Then we dip them in butter and garlic." Pretty much how you get 'em in tapas bars all over Spain.
These trap-caught shrimp are available in Halifax. You can catch them at the Fisherman's Market in Bedford and at Pete's Frootique.