Whale Shark at Sham Wan update

A whale shark Rhincodon typus was spotted at Sham Wan on Lamma Island on 27th of June 2012

The whale shark, Rhincodon typus, is a slow, filter feeding shark that is the largest living fish species in the world. It feeds on small shrimps, fish and plankton. The shark is found in tropical and warm oceans and lives in the open sea. The species poses no danger to humans.

This video clip was made by a member of the public and posted on Youtube. I take no responsibility or credit for the content of this clip. You can see that the shark is struggling in the rocky shallow water just off the beach (ca. 5 to 10 meters by my estimate). Eventually it makes its way back to sea. Reports suggested that it may have been spotted again off Deep Water Bay on the 3rd of July, but could not be confirmed. Whale sharks are found in tropical waters world-wide, so its presence in Hong Kong is not surprising. In fact, on the 6th of June 2008 at about 2pm a trawler caught a 5m whale shark and after identification by the Agriculture and Fisheries Department in at the pier off the Aberdeen Wholesale Fish Market it was released back at to the waters of Round Island around 4.30pm (see AFCD press release linked here). Tragically it died and ended up in a landfill (WWF HK statement).

Given how much sharks fin is traded and eaten in Hong Kong its more surprising that the shark got away without being caught, mutilated and sold for sharks-fin soup. What is really interesting is that this beach is not just a turtle breeding spot with AFCD protection and a beautiful scenic spot thanks to the regular clean-ups done as part of the turtle protection, but it also has some nice hard coral areas in some places and now a whale shark! I think it should be declared a Marine Park. Who is with me?

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Golden-Thread, See-Through Fins and a lot of Nasty Little Bones – It’s Fish No.3

Scientific Name: Nemipterus virgatus
Common Names: Golden-Thread, Golden Threadfin Bream, Hung SamNemipterus virgatus - do not eat!
Origin: China
Date: 7th Aug 2012
Where: Fusion in Discovery Bay
Weight: 0.294 catty (178 g)
Cost: $22.90 (78$ per catty)
Recipe: Steamed with some herbs
WWF Sustainable Seafood Guide: Think Twice

Named Golden-Thread – I presume – because of the golden thread-like line down its sides. This is a smaller fish and according to WWF not so sensitive to fishing pressure because they are fast growing and reach maturity at 15 months, but still overfished. Quite honestly I do not know why, because I am certainly not going to bother with this fish again, but more on that later. Although fishing of Golden-Thread is by small-hooked long lines which does not produce a lot of by-catch the management measure in place in Hong Kong are apparently weak. So the stocks have been declining in the South China Sea, with catches being mostly young fish.

Herklots & Lin – my 1962 guide to this project – actually just give the genus Nemipterus sp. for this fish in their book, so I figured N. virgatus is as good as any Nemipterus, right? You probably don’t care either….anyway…

The Golden-Thread by Herklots & Lin (1962)

Wikipedia tells me that it occurs “in the Western Pacific, from Southern Japan to Northwest Australia and the Arafura Sea. It is one of the most popular commercial and food fish in the East China Sea and northern South China Sea.” Once again I have no idea why its popular. Maybe because it can be made into fish balls?

Computer Generated Map for Nemipterus virgatus (un-reviewed). http://www.aquamaps.org, version of Aug. 2010. Web. Accessed 8 Aug. 2012.

It has a maximum length of 35 cm….mone were about 15 cm (I had to buy 2, as one couldn’t have fed a mouse), which is roughly the length at first maturity, too. So it seems WWF are right: basically this fish is being caught as soon as it hits maturity, probably even a bit before, which is very bad for conserving the fish stock. If you eat them before they reproduce, guess what? There won’t be any left soon.

Its non-migratory and spends its time between 18-33 m depth but can go down to 220m. Its a demersal fish (lives new the seabed) and inhabits muddy or sandy bottoms and feeds on crustaceans, fish and cephalopods (squid, cuttlefish and octopus).

So much for the science…here is the culinary part: what a rubbish fish! Take my advice, if you don’t want to spend 1 hour picking through the tiny bones and bits of what is size-wise a large goldfish, don’t bother with this fish. Fish balls are the only way to make this palatable: puree the sucker(s) in a blender to chop the bones into pulp and you have something resembling a meal…but thats not my idea of eating a fish…

I give it a score of 1/10. And that one point is just because the actual taste of the flesh which was just average. Everything else about it was a pain in the neck (literally…I smaller one bone that scratched all the way down my throat for about 5 minutes).

I never even asked the wife….she just said it’s too small and makes the whole house stink of fish….which is true this is one of the fishiest fish I have ever tried! Here is a picture of the worlds most pathetic fish meal.

a pittyful plate of Nemipterus virgatus - steamed

Size Matters – Fish No.2: the Yellow Croaker

Scientific Name: Larimichtys crocea or rather polyactis!

Common Names: Yellow Croaker
Origin: China
Date: 2nd August 2012
Where: Fusion in Discovery Bay
Weight: 0.762 catty (460g) – 2 fish
Cost: $54.90 (72$ per catty)
Recipe: steamed in lemongrass, sesame seed oil, kaffir lime leaves, coriander and ginger
WWF Sustainable Seafood Guide: Think twice

Ah what a schoolboy marine biologist error! I thought I bought a Large Yellow Croaker Larimichthys crocea when really I bought a Small Yellow CroakerLarimichthys polyactis! You see the former occurs in Hong Kong waters and is on my list, but the latter is the occurs further north in the East China Sea, not in Hong Kong and is not even on my list! When it comes to Yellow Croakers size matters.
But I am not going to be academically pedantic about it and disqualify this meal. I can not imagine that the Large and Small Yellow Croaker taste very different, so this blog stands. Also I don’t want fish stocks to suffer an additional hit from my idiotic mistake…
I learned some valuable lessons from this: 1) read the label properly, 2) WWF’s Sustainable Seafood Guide is very inadequate as L. polyactis is not on there at all, and 3) ethically eating fish is very difficult!

This fish (Large Yellow Croaker) was on my list again marked ‘Think Twice’ – well, I thought twice, perhaps I should also have read the label twice!

What I was supposed to eat:
Larimichthys crocea, called the Croceine croaker, Large yellow croaker or just the Yellow croaker, is a species of croaker native to the western Pacific, generally in temperate waters such as the Taiwan Strait. Males can reach 80 cm. Once an abundant commercial fish off China, Korea and Japan, its population collapsed in the 1970s due to overfishing.Fishing boats landed 56,088 t of Larimichthys crocea in 2008. The species is aquafarmed in China, and farms have experienced outbreaks of infections. L. crocea is an important enough commercial species to have its genome mapped.
WWF says: Yellow croaker sold in HK is from fish farms (mariculture). Fish farms can only be set up in designated places in Hong Kong and China. The industry is beneficial to local communities. However, the management measures in place to address the environmental impact of yellow croaker farms are weak, and enforcement is poor. The high density of fish promotes disease spread, land-based pond systems discharge the untreated pond effluent (excess feed, faeces) into the sea directly, and the feed consists of smaller often overfished and trawled species.

Herklots & Lin about the Yellow Croaker
Herklots & Lin about the Yellow Croaker

What I actually ate:
Larimichthys polyactis, called the redlip croaker, small yellow croaker, little yellow croaker or yellow corvina, is a species of croaker native to the western Pacific, generally in temperate waters such as the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea. They stay in shallow waters above 120 m but avoid brackish conditions. Individual males can reach 42 cm.
Once an abundant commercial fish off China, Korea and Japan, its population collapsed in the 1970s due to overfishing. Global catch has since rebounded, with 388,018 t landed in 2008. Salted and dried, they are a food product known as gulbi (굴비) in Korean. Yeonggwang gulbi is a prized delicacy, selling for over $100 a bunch.

My little beauties
My little beauties

And here are my two beauties before I took them home.

Anyway…What a beautiful fish! Look at that yellow underside! I needed two as it’s quite a small fish ~ 10 inches long.

The meal: steamed Thai-style (ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, sesame seed oil) with stir-fry vegetables in garlic and soy sauce

Steamed (Wrong) Yellow Croaker
Steamed (Wrong) Yellow Croaker

My verdict: 6/10 – a decent fish. But it looks better than it tastes.
Fish was good, but had some more small bones in it and was quite small, so not as good as Pompano. A bit too soggy as it fell apart, but that’s more because I used a deeper steaming dish than last time so it cooked in its own juice more. Recipe was ok. Perhaps I should have had the salted or sun-dried version as it is very important as a salted or dried fish in China, and the Chinese must know best how to prepare their native fish.

The wife’s verdict: 6/10 (we agreed?)
Not as fleshy as the Pompano, more like other white fish. Recipe was better than last week.

And now the aftermath…

Thank you for feeding me wrong yellow croaker
Thank you for feeding me wrong yellow croaker

Stay tuned for an eventual sequel…

“Yellow Croaker – this time its the Big One”

Next week’s likely target: Gold-Thread (Nemipterus spp.) or Japanese Sea-bream (Lateolabrax japonicus)

Fish No. 1: the Pompano

Scientific Name: Trachinotus blochii
Common Names: Pompano, Snubnose Pompano
Origin: China, Mariculture
Date: 28th July 2012
Where: Fusion in Discovery Bay
Weight: 0.678 catty (410 g)
Cost: $58.90
Recipe: Steamed with ginger and soy sauce
WWF Sustainable Seafood Guide: Think Twice … oh-oh

Supermarket wrapped pompano

As this is the first fish, I went the easy route and got it from the supermarket. Interestingly, only two fishes from my list are for sale there: Pompano and Yellow Croaker. Not sure whether that’s HK overfishing, seasonal availability or Discovery Bay residents taste buds…
Follow this link for more info on the Pompano from the WWF HK’s website. I think as I am only eating this variety this one time, its ok.
But back to the fish: it looks a really a beautiful fish to look at. Its a strong, super-streamlined predator with small but nasty teeth. Here is what Herklots and Lin said:

20120728-190332.jpg

I don’t have much to add to that, except the fact that its a predator and easy to keep is the reason its on the WWF’s questionable list. Its taken from hatcheries in Taiwan and China and then raised up on fish farms until big enough to sell, where it is fed smaller fish as feed…and that’s the bit thats bad as its quite wasteful and smaller fish are often juveniles which shouldn’t be caught at all.

So here is a quick rundown of the meal:

    Steamed Pompano stuffed with chopped ginger and garlic (20 min), then covered in soy sauce
    Organic baby Shanghai greens lightly fried then cooked in sauce of soy, veg stock, sugar, sesame seed oil and cornstarch
    Plain steamed white rice

And now, the meal:

Cooked Pompano

My verdict on the fish:
Fantastic fish, but the recipe not that great. The fish was child’s play to take apart with big nice fleshy white chunks coming off clean with one stroke. Not very strong flavoured though and not very oily either. What a shame its on the WWF questionable list, because otherwise I would buy it more often. Score: 8/10

The wife’s verdict: fleshy, meaty fish, very subtle flavour. Thumbs up. 7/10

Eaten up remainders of a Pompano

Next week’s planned fish: Yellow croaker.

One small step for sharks, one giant leap for cadres?

Lucky I read the paper this morning! It would appear at first that shark conservation is being taken seriously in China with a new ban on shark’s fin at government banquets. As many people know government banquets – or any banquets for that matter – in China are BIG and frequent occurrences!
So this ban would appear to be great news not only because less sharks fin is going to be consumed in China, but also because it shows that more attention is now being given to shark conservation in China.
Sadly, as the newspaper pointed out, too, the reality is somewhat different. Faced with crippling provincial government debts in some areas and overspending in most,the real reason for the ban is cost savings. It was only a few months ago that Chinese officials were given mew guidelines on how many dishes to order per table at banquets to reign in the excesses. It would appear that shark conservation is not high on the agenda at all. And with rising prosperity in China and a ferocious appetite for luxuries for the nouveau riche, I doubt very much that shark’s fin consumption will drop much.
Still its a small step, and it might lead to more.
To show your support for shark conservation, sign
HK SharkFoundation’s Petition and visit their website for more information and to help the cause.

Exciting news: Whale Shark spotted at Sham Wan, Lamma Island

 

Whale shark at Georgia aquarium
Source=en:Image:Whale shark Georgia aquarium.jpg |Date=16 September 2006 |Author=User:Zac Wolf

Exciting news: Whale Shark spotted at Sham Wan, Lamma Island

Ignore the sensationalist newspaper reporting about terror stricken families etc.

We had a benign, plankton feeding whale shark in Hong Kong!!! How cool is that! Lots of people pay a lot of money to swim with one of these, using helicopters and spotter planes to find them.

Whooohooo!