One particular species of shellfish which I have always found, not only extremely good value and delicious, but also a lot of fun to catch, is the Brown or Common Shrimp (Crangon crangon). I have managed over the years to enthuse my children enough to enjoy this particular summer, seashore pastime and if well prepared, it can prove a hugely worthwhile exercise.
A good, purpose-built, push-net is required and this year I have upgraded from my old Cornish two footer, to a more professional version with a four foot bar, which makes the previous model appear a touch inadequate (although it has caught well over the last few years). It took a bit of research via the internet to locate the right thing, but thanks to the very helpful Hastings Angling Centre I have now doubled my shrimping capacity.
It was with acute excitement and anticipation that I planned our next trip and the first outing for my new toy. Looking at the local Tide Tables, I saw that we had a good low Spring Tide coming on Aug 12/13th and that meant that there wouldn’t be too much water in the gulley which separates the shingle beach from a submerged sand bar and home to the local shrimp population. Too much water and you go swimming, a good tide means a waist deep wade.
It should be stressed at this point that for anyone considering a shrimping expedition, it is ESSENTIAL that you have a good knowledge of local tides, shore conditions and topography and of course one eye on an up-to-date local weather forecast. Safety is paramount and I cant quite believe how incredibly blasé I was in my youth about these things. Shorelines are constantly evolving and shifting entities and it is a foolish soul who disregards signs that might indicate that all is not as it was on previous visits. We are lucky in Suffolk that incoming tides do not travel as fast in our Southern North Sea as perhaps say, the Atlantic coast, but nonetheless caution must always be observed.
Anyway, yesterday morning at 0630 my daughter and I struck out down the beach, gear in hand to try out the new shrimping beast. It was indeed a reasonable tide and I reckoned we had about an hour of slack water before the young Flood started to make life difficult. Daughter wielded the old tried and trusted Cornishman and I plunged through the gulley and instantly embarked on a knee-deep wade, pushing the sturdy T-bar of the new four foot net ahead.
I tend to operate parallel to the beach and you need to keep the net working preferably at a depth where you can see the top of the mesh and the sand billowing through its wake. I would love to have taken a demo shot of that happening, but I’m not that brave enough to dangle my iPhone over waves as yet!
Each drag lasts for approximately 50m (or as long as my back tells me it can) and the net is drawn up and backwards which accumulates all the catch together nicely. Shrimps, of course, in abundance, is what we’re after but (and here’s the exciting bit) all manner of other marine life find their way in too, as the moving bar disrupts their sandy haunts.
Shore or Litteral crabs (Carcinus maenas) of varying ages naturally appear but other notable by- catch are Sea gooseberries, Pipefish, Gobies, juvenile Dover Sole, Brill, Dabs and Flounder and of course the evil Lesser Weever (Echiichthys vipera) which, to the unprotected foot, can administer a rather painful and persistent sting, which can perfectly curtail the day even for the most resilient of souls. Stout, though sufficiently light beach footwear also ESSENTIAL. As luck would have it, yesterdays trip proved Weever-free.
After numerous drags (daughter had retired by now, claiming a net cut-out ) my calves, thighs and back were telling me that perhaps a three foot width would have sufficed. However, the advance of the now-making Flood told me that the gulley wade would end up being more of a back crawl if I didn’t wrap it up.
Back to the shoreline then and an inspection of the mornings yield which, although no record, did suggest enough for a boil up at home and the promise of Crevettes en Pot. The Shrimps were duly decanted into a sealable container of fresh seawater for the homeward journey. Shellfish generally, I find (apart from some Crabs) are best cooked alive and in seawater preferably. Of course where none is available then Maldon or Cornish Sea Salt dissolved in fresh water is perfectly adequate.
Once home, I quickly boiled the seawater and added the shrimps leaving to cook for only a matter of minutes. Overcooked shellfish is a crime. The result; a small but satisfying feed of locally caught, quality, wild Brown Shrimps that would grace any table. After cooling, then peeling must take place and that, I confess, is the least appealing part of the job, being for me, with large agricultural hands a bit tiresome (and I’m apt to keep eating them). After peeling, then short of devouring them instantly, I like to use a simple James Martin recipe for Potted Shrimps using unsalted English butter, and equal quantities of Cayenne and Nutmeg. Delightfully straightforward and satisfaction guaranteed, especially when you have extraordinary quality local bread like we do, from the iconic Pump Street Bakery in Orford.
So there you have it. A short story of the simple and abundant pleasure of the harvesting, preparing and eating of sustainable wild food using time weathered and tested methods. The other positive I can draw from this wonderful experience, is that now, with a four foot net, I also get a bloody good workout into the bargain!