On the menu this holiday season: 80 tonnes of fish and shellfish
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    On the menu this holiday season: 80 tonnes of fish and shellfish

    The horseback shrimp fishermen of Oostduinkerke © Dirk van Hove

    Fishermen landed some 80 tonnes of fish and shellfish on Friday alone at the fish market in Zeebrugge, in preparation for the peak demand of the Christmas and New Year season.

    Meanwhile scientists at the Flemish ILVO research facility have discovered a way to grow brown shrimp – one of the country’s most prized delicacies – in a way that will interest the aquaculture industry.

    The holiday period is bonanza time for the fish trade. Fish like sole – the most popular sort for Belgian tables – and in particular shellfish is high, while the supply is regular, which means that prices go up. In general, one trader told RTL, prices around now are twice as high as the rest of the year, and for special species like turbot, up to three times more expensive.

    The sale of the day’s catch takes place in a computer-equipped hall. Among the bidders was Raki Tsoumpoulis, head of the fish department of supermarket chain Carrefour. “Normally, we deal with 9,000 lots a day on average. But at the end of the year, and especially in December, we need a whole new warehouse. That allows us to deal with 60,000 lots today,” he told the channel.

    Meanwhile at the Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Research (ILVO) down the coast in Ostend, researchers have developed a method of farming brown shrimp (crevettes grises or grijze garnalen) in an economically viable way.

    The task is made more difficult by the fact that the shrimp, one of Belgium’s most distinctive culinary products, although most shrimp sold here are caught by Dutch boats, is very demanding when it comes to growth conditions: strong currents, mild water temperatures and the right sort of plant diet.

    The breakthrough in taking the larvae of the shrimp to the stage of adult specimens is the result of doctoral research carried out at ILVO by Benigna Van Eynde of the university of Ghent, reports industry newsletter Vilt. “Large, living shrimp offer a great deal of culinary opportunities,” she explained. “But they are scarce, and it takes a lot of effort and time to catch them in the wild and bring them to land.”

    The idea that one day soon the market might be flooded with grey (also called brown) shrimp grown in a tank may not be welcomed by existing fishermen, including the famous horseback shrimp fishermen of Oostduinkerke, because an increase in supply means a possible fall in prices, or a drop in demand as shoppers turn away from the more expensive traditional sources and towards the lab-grown, cheaper alternative.

    ILVO has noticed a growing demand from restaurants recently for larger, living grey shrimp for use in preparations like sashimi, or for other treatments like grilling and marinating. “For that sort of application, there could be an added value of something like 30%,” the institute said.

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times