News Column: COASTAL CURRENTS
Submitted: Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Alan Matherne, Area Agent (Fisheries & Coastal Issues)
Terrebonne, Lafourche, and Assumption Parishes; LSU AgCenter
Fisheries and seafood topics provide a real “gumbo” of interesting facts, myths, and misconceptions.
Add to this sauce some authentic Louisiana Cajun flavor and what you’ve got is a well-seasoned helping of “Fish & Seafood Trivia”.
Through the years, I’ve managed to compile quite a few bits and pieces of interesting fisheries facts . . . trivia if you will (yes, I’m an info pack rat too). Here are some of the more interesting items I’ve come across. See how many you can answer correctly.
Q. What is a “bouillabaisse”?
A. It is a highly seasoned (pepper and spices) stew of red snapper or redfish and various kinds of vegetables. In France, sturgeon and perch are used to prepare the dish. The name of this fish stew originates from Modern Provencal “bouliabaisso” which literally means boils and settles. “Bouli” is to boil and “abaisso” means to settle or subside.
Q. What fish is known as “Poisson Arme” (armed fish) by the Cajuns and what is the significance of this name?
A. This is an appropriate name given to the garfish that inhabit Louisiana waters. The gar has long narrow jaws full of sharp teeth and its body is armored by a covering of hard protective scales. The Choctaw Indians knew the gar as “strong fish” . . . “nani kallo” or “nani kamussa.” They made use of the gar’s sharp teeth to scratch or bleed themselves and their pointed scales to arm their arrows. Today gar meat is highly prized by central and north Louisiana residents, and the scales are fashioned by innovative bayou dwellers into decorative plaques, napkin rings, and other knickknacks.
Q. What common Louisiana fish’s name translates to “milk bag”?
A. Because of its slivery olive appearance and beautiful white flesh, French-speaking Cajuns call the White Crappie (Proxomis annularis) “sac-a-lait”, meaning “bag of milk” or “milk bag”.
Q. What is “Cajun Caviar” and from what fish does it come from?
A. “Cajun Caviar”, as it is known, is caviar made from the roe (eggs) of the bowfin (Ami calva). Cajuns know this fish as “choupique”. Choupique is a derivative of the Choctaw Indians’ “shupik”, which aptly means “mud fish.”
Q. What is a “caiman” (pronounced KI-MOA) or “cocodrie” (pronounced COCO-DREE)?
A. These are Louisiana Cajun French names for the alligator.
Q. What is a “caouane” (pronounced COW-AN)?
A. It is the Cajun French name for the alligator snapping turtle (freshwater), better known locally as a “loggerhead” because of the extremely large size of the head (circumference may reach up to 25 inches).
Q. How many species or different kinds of fish are there?
A. Scientists estimate that there are from 20,000 to 40,000 species of fish found on earth; many of these are still undiscovered!
Q. What is the world’s largest fish?
A. That would be the whale shark. Measuring in at over 50 feet long, it can weigh several tons.
Q. What is the world’s smallest fish?
A. Growing to less than 1/2 inch at adulthood, the goby (found in lakes in Luzon, Philippines) qualifies as the smallest known fish.
Q. How can they tell how old a fish is?
A. There are two methods commonly used to age fish. Growth rings are counted on either fish scales or otoliths (small inner ear bones) in a manner similar to counting rings in a tree. The rings generally correspond to seasonal changes in the environment. Otolith ring counts are generally more accurate than scale ring counts due to the fact that scale rings are often influenced by other, non-seasonal factors.
Q. How long do fish live?
A. Some small reef fishes live for only a few weeks or months, while other fish, such as sturgeons, have been known to live for 50 or more years.
Q. Is fish flesh very salty?
A. Actually, in most cases, the flesh of fish contains very little salt. So little in fact, that many doctors recommend it in salt-free diets. One exception though is the shark, whose meat is salty — as salty as the water in which it lives.
Q. Are saltwater catfish edible?
A. Absolutely! The two species found in U.S. waters, the gafftopsail catfish and the sea catfish (hardhead) are both good to eat, with the gafftopsail catfish considered the more delectable.
Do you have any fish and seafood mysteries that you’d like solved? Do you know a fisheries/seafood related fact that others might find interesting. If so, contact me and we’ll look into using it to add just a little more spice to our fish and seafood trivia sauce.