Lucie is a teacher from Shropshire who spent six weeks teaching on St Helena last year and enjoyed it so much, she has returned in April for two years. She is already well integrated into the community and has become a major organiser of the temporary visitors’ (doctors, nurses, midwife and teachers in particular) social agenda.
She knows the owners of the fishing boats, in particular which of the boats are more equipped’ – not with fishing gear but with a loo! We were promised that Starlight, the boat she had arranged for the Shropshire Six, Eileen and I to go fishing on had that convenience so was a cut above the rest.
It was a very early start on Sunday morning– 06.45h down at the wharf. We clambered aboard Starlight and were introduced to Keth, the boat owner, and his son Kyle. The crew were joined by the skipper, Craig who took us out to open water. I had noticed that the clouds were moving much faster than on any previous day since arriving so it was no surprise that there was quite a swell as well as choppy water.
We did not go further than a mile or so from the coast but over the six hours we were out caught red jacks, soldier fish, a black jack and two congar (moray) eels close to the coast with dropping lines from the stationary vessel. The ‘game’ fish were not out for us today; just one bonita bit the bait on one of two long lines trailing from the rear of the moving vessel. We were treated, however, to hundreds of dolphins putting on a wonderful display as well as some whales spouting in the distance. Then, to crown it all, three humpback whales were spotted less than half a mile away.
Seeing the live creatures was the best part of the day for me and took my mind off the queasy feeling that accompanied me from morning until late afternoon.
It was rather gruesome watching the gutting of the fish, some of them obviously still alive
or with persisting reflex gill movements. At least one of us ended up being splattered with blood and gunge in the process. Back on shore, we were entitled to take away all the catch of the day, but I decided that one small red jack was more than enough for me.
I managed to find the energy and enthusiasm to prepare the fish for tea. Descaling it was a much messier job than I had imagined. Scales flew everywhere, over me, the floor, the kitchen surfaces, the wall, as I ran the knife up and down the body of the fish. It was a big surprise to see that its heart was still pulsating regularly and I had to control the urge to abandon the cooking preparation. I attempted to cut off its head and gills – but the only knife I have here was not sturdy enough to deal with the thick back bone. Once descaled, I put it straight into the frying pan, making the scientific observation that its heart beat faster in a hot environment! It was only when I squeezed it flat onto the heat that the heart stopped its reflex activity. The whole process reminded me a little of the film Julie and Julia where Julie cooks lobsters and has a crisis over the act of putting them into the water while still alive. Then the pan lid clatters off giving her quite a fright! I kept expecting my fish to do something surprising like jump out of the pan – but thankfully it stayed put.
A little bit of research revealed that I was actually eating the Deepwater Scorpion Fish (Pontinus nigropunctatus) which is an endemic species of St Helena. It’s only supposed to be found at 150m or so depths but there were plenty close to the coast here at depths
more like 50m or less. It is classed as ‘Vulnerable’, being on the
‘IUCN Red List’. That made me feel quite guilty for having eaten one without having appreciated it very much.