The Fish Story

Non-Riches Within Our Seaweeds; Sin City Gets Rained Down Upon

By JAY MANN | Jul 30, 2019
Photo by: Supplied FOUND GOOD SPOT: Ronny Stott-Merriel shows off one of 20 fluke she nabbed.

Seaweed has turned into pure gold in Asia, transformed by the Midas touch of eclectic Japanese taste buds. Assorted seaweeds, known as nori over there, are an essential part of every Rising Sunner’s known-healthy diet. The algal stuff now realizes top yen due to its repopulating popularity – and an inability of Japan’s seaweed industry, including reapers of both wild and aquaculturally grown nori, to keep pace. There’s money in watery weed, equivalent to billions of our dollars per year.

So, might that distant demand open dollar doors for us, seeing we have seaweed growing all over the place? You might want to take pause before bull rushing the bay, intent on raking in big profits by airlifting Barnegat Bay seaweed to Tokyo. I’ve looked into it and our Jersey nori isn’t quite right for making some yen cabbage. While we have seaweeds that would surely fly in Hokkaido, there simply isn’t enough here to make a protracted go of it, though algae-based aquaculture is taking root in Callie and New England. Maybe someday the Garden State could nurture some nori.

What I’d like to interest you in, in the meantime, is the tons of NJ seaweed we could pick for personal consumption – providing your personal tastes are open to a recalibration. It’s worth a go because most seaweeds are rich in vitamins and nutrients, including some rare ones. We already take in seaweeds through ingredients like carrageenan, agar and many gelatins.

I’ve tried a slew of our local seaweeds by cautiously taste-testing them out in the field, often down Holgate way, famed for its steady flow of seaweed. The flavor of most of them, especially the red stringy type (Agardh’s red weed; Agardhiella subulate), takes some serious taste tolerances on the chewer’s part. There’s no escaping the initial burst of sea-ish saltiness. The salinity surge is quickly complimented by powerful flavor impulses best categorized as the essence of bay bottom. It’s most often accompanied by an engaging suggestion of general downriver brackishness. To date, I’ve concluded that most seaweed pretty much tastes like … seaweed.

But back to one type that is passably palatable: sea lettuce, technically Ulva lactuca. One of our most common and showiest seaweeds, this attractive, translucent, lime-green alga – seaweed is an algae – is often very abundant in tidal pools and bay shallows. It attaches to anything stable. Anglers most commonly see it afloat it in the fall, when seasonal storms tear it from its summer home base. When free floating, it remains alive and tastily fresh.

My initial sea lettuce taste tests garnished a not-badish review, though it was marred a bit by my inability to wash off every single clingy sand grain. When it comes to even a lone grain of sand in my food, I’m like that princess that ate peas in bed and then couldn’t sleep because of the crumbs. Hey, my folks weren’t big on reading me fairytales so I just kinda piecemealed them along the way.

As to flavor, sea lettuce nicely lacks some of the seaweediness of most other alga. It is far more subtle, easily able to be eaten fresh, sautéed or – the most usable – dried, like an herb. Sea lettuce is popular in many cultures. In fact, a couple academic sources suggest it’s called sea lettuce due to its edibility.

There is a slew of recipes for making and serving sea lettuce, including sea lettuce kimchi. I’m there. Fermentation rocks.

To use it, simply collect, rinse thoroughly and voila. Best start with small minced pieces when going salad with it. It stir-fries nicely with other veggies. I dry it, grind it well and shake on seafood and salad.

I tried making a tea with it. Best to not try that.

WHAT LANDS IN VEGAS … : My weirdness-of-the-week thumbs-way-up award goes to Las Vegas and that region’s National Weather Service radar, which recently displayed the tell-tale green hue of what seemed to be approaching rainshowers. But, yo, there wasn’t a cloud within hundreds of miles. Just a radar glitch, right? Not quite. Let the freak flags fly. The radar was showing a plague about to befall Sin City (biblical inferences fully intended). Enter a veritable dark cloud … of grasshoppers.

Here’s a mere surface-scratch of the headlines du jour.

“Hordes of grasshoppers have invaded Las Vegas”

“Grasshoppers Have Taken Over the Las Vegas Strip”

“Thousands of grasshoppers on the go make migratory stop in Las Vegas area.”

But it was a CNN headline that got me oohing and awing: “Las Vegas’ grasshopper invasion is so big you can see it on weather radar.” How coolly weird is that!? What’s weirder yet, the cloud of critters could even be seen from space. Per a headline, “There Are So Many Grasshoppers in Las Vegas Right Now You Can See Them From Space.” And here I idly sit in sinless Jersey.

Folks in the Entertainment Capital of the World were more creeped out than entertained by a million or so visiting pallid-winged grasshopper (Trimerotropis pallidipennis). They’re medium-sized, sandy-colored grasshoppers, similar to our common Carolina locust (Dissosteira carolina), the grasshopper that looks like a piece of sand has suddenly taken flight.

While Vegas spiritual types might equate the tsunami of hoppers as a cosmic message of impending good luck at the craps tables, killjoy scientists quickly nailed down the cause. For 2019, Nevada has already hosted almost twice its normal annual rainfall; a banner setup for grasshoppers to grow in the nearby desert. Quickly maturing, the pallid-wing hoppers then mass migrate toward distant mating grounds, passing through Las Vegas to quickly get married prior to consensual spawning.

Hey, with all the rain we’ve had, maybe we’ll get some sort of mindboggling hatch of nature. Who just said “Mosquitoes?” Bite your tongue, knave!

ASK ME: Why are bloodworms so expensive?”

Supply, demand and the general rarity of this marine polychaeta, or bristle worm. While we have some smaller ones in our bayside muds, most come from the ideal tidal habitats along the Maine coastline. It’s annually an $8 billion industry. Alarmingly, last year saw Maine’s bloodworm harvest hit a low point, one-third of the high in the early 1960s. Understandably, the price has responded with all-time highs.

It has also been implied that there is some price-fixing by those who painstakingly harvest the knee-deep-in-mud fanged worms. It’s filthy work, highlighted as among the worst of the worst on the TV series “Dirty Jobs.” Not that the price-fixing diggers need worry about antitrust investigators. They would barely reach the edge of the mud flats in their city duds and say, “Screw this. Charge whatever you want.”

I’m compelled to pass on my one traumatizing bloodworm tale. It happened when I was maybe 10, while nervously night fishing with my dad. I just wasn’t into night fishing, especially with that eerie something’s-out-there glow of olden pump-style Coleman lanterns. As I stood there holding my rod and hearing things going bump in the night, my dad suddenly yelled, “Owwww! It got me!” That was all I needed. I was so out of there. I threw my rod in the air and bolted across the beach toward home. Hell, my dad had to chase me down and explain it was just a bloodworm had bitten him. I barely remember fishing the rest of that night, awaiting the next attacker.

“Any size limit or bag limit on kingfish?”

No and no. I just think too small is too small. I can’t equate that to inches. Simply hold one in your hand and say “Nah. Throwing this one back in.”

“Do fishermen need beach badges?”

Yes, if fishing during guarded hours, generally 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you disagree with that rule, please don’t take it out on the badge checkers, they have nothing to do with making the rules and are often just kids trying to do a kinda dirty job. If you want to vent, go to town hall.

(Very commonly asked) “Do anglers ever get checked by Fish and Wildlife officers?

Speaking in surfcasting terms, the answer is “rarely if ever.” But that will surely change the instant you do anything even remotely wrong. Food for thought.

Far more often, it’s other anglers who angrily spy sins being committed by nearby anglers, especially regarding size or bag limits. That leads to a boat angling bugaboo. I’ve more than once seen one boatload of anglers heatedly letting another know what it’s thinking. It can ruin an entire fishing session for all involved. Best to just play by the rules – by following said rules.

On the other enforcement hand, the administration of boating laws is very common. Boat anglers – and pleasure boaters – best keep a tight ship since the eyes of the man might very well be upon you. Binoculars can see great distances.

“Is there a law against wasting fish?” This came from someone whose neighbor allegedly threw a “bunch of big dead bluefish” in a lagoon, whole.

I believe Jersey is among many/most states prohibiting “wanton waste” of wildlife resources. Personally, the most common wanton waste accusations I’ve fielded (by far) have to do with, yep, bluefish.

Over the years, I’ve gotten easily a dozen calls from folks finding discarded, uncleaned bluefish along roadways. I’ve also found them discarded deep in the woods, which took some effort. I’ve been told by Garden State Parkway authorities that they’ve seen a number of clandestine bluefish dumpings.

That bemoaned, the lack of big blues in recent falls has kept those incidents down, though your case (this past spring) brings the problem back to light.

The most I can suggest is calling town hall. There might be a public health issue involved. Fish and Wildlife officers have bigger fish to fry.

Once again (as in “Please!”), don’t play enforcer. We’re learning the hard way that we’ve become one of the more homicidally inclined nations in the world. Dead fish are not worth getting into a shooting match over. I hear ya: “Oh, stuff like that just doesn’t happen around here!” If we’re learning anything in these killing times, every insane, homicidal incident seemingly takes place where, and I quote from the news, “Stuff like that just doesn’t happen around here!”

RUNDOWN: Don’t tell anyone but there is a fine push of stripers around the (east) rocks of Barnegat Inlet. Jumping jigs and flavored plastic down deep works wonders. Some keepers in the mix. Betting spearfishing will shine when water clears a bit … and warms. It was into the low 60s on Monday. Brrrrr.

Bluefish have returned with a vengeance in some places, to the tune of one-pounders on every cast. I had two reports from surfcasters mugging them and a couple more tales of bail sessions near inlets. One must wonder if those are bay blues driven out of a (possible) record-warm bay.

Blowfishing deflating a bit, though still seeing pics of a dozen or more at a pop, all bayside and all chum-drawn. Bite could linger into August.

Kingfish bite hampered by significant four-foot groundswell, mucking water clarity. Add to that, south winds knocking water temps all over the place, dropping as low as 65 over the weekend, before rebounding to near 70. Note above the low 60s in Barnegat Inlet. Shows the swingingness. Kingfishing seems to shine in cleaner, calmer, warmer water.

Totally impressed by the way GULP! and similar flavored “plastics” are catching a variety of fish, possibly more so than in the past. Those “plastics” companies keep improving their flavored products. Kingfish seem to prefer them over natural baits.

For this week, I want to include this recent shark fishing warning. More to come; I have calls in. “Fishing for sharks is regulated by the State and federal regulations. Federal regulations prohibit targeting any prohibited species and anglers must release any prohibited shark immediately, without removing it from the water and in a manner that maximizes its chances of survival. For example, Sand Tiger Sharks are a prohibited species, therefore posing for pictures on the beach with this species or any other species on the prohibited list is a violation of federal regulations.”

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