My son Corwin was home over Christmas and we enjoyed doing a lot of cooking together. It’s such a joy to share the love of making and eating good food with my grown son! Some years ago, we took a family vacation to the Canary Islands where we visited some wonderful Spanish college friends of mine. The weather was sunny, the scenery lovely, but perhaps the most enjoyable and interesting part of the trip was the culture and the food! We had countless incredible meals, but one particularly stood out—-a simple garlic shrimp dish we enjoyed on Lanzarote Island. Ever since this time Corwin and I have been reminiscing about it and plotting to recreate the recipe! Turns out it was a renowned Island specialty and I recently rediscovered the recipe through the wonders of the internet. So, we set about to try to cook it. Here it is!
Lanzarote-style garlic shrimp tapas
Oven-proof small casserole, cast iron pan, or terra cotta dish
1 lb raw peeled prawns
10 cloves garlic
1 tsp red pepper flakes
½ cup olive oil – not extra virgin
Large knob butter
1 tsp spanish paprika
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
½ c chopped flat-leaf parsley
On Lanzarotte, this ‘tapas’ is served in a special oven-proof terra cotta dish. I substituted a small cast-iron fry pan but am on the lookout for a suitable small casserole which would be a more elegant serving method. Before you start cooking, put your serving dish in a very hot oven to heat and prepare a heat-proof place for it on the dining table.
– Put the olive oil in a pre-heated frying pan on high heat.
– Add the prawns, garlic and chili, and cook for one minute at high heat.
– Add the butter and paprika and stir.
– Put hot serving dish on table.
– Carefully transfer fry pan ingredients to hot serving dish.
– Add lemon juice and sprinkle parsley over.
– Eat with a good loaf of artisanal bread to mop up juices.
Truthfully, the outcome of this cooking adventure didn’t measure up to our memories of the dish. Upon reflection, I think the problem was two-fold. First, we used way too much olive oil because the recipe we were following was in ml and I was careless in converting it, and secondly the shrimp were not fresh enough.
Despite initially capturing a higher quality product, wild-capture fisheries sometimes have difficulty delivering it to market at a comparable freshness as a farmed product. Frozen seafood can be as good or better than fresh, but a very short period between capture and freezing and careful handling is required to maximize quality. The main cause of poor quality is high ‘fishery intensity’ or short seasons and excessive effort. This results from too many vessels and too much gear in the fishery, and from managers shortening fishing time to prevent overshooting target harvest levels while fishermen fish harder to maximize their catch share. Product quality subsequently declines further as it sits in cold storage. As a fisheries biologist who is also a cook, it pains me to see wild product looking bedraggled at the super market.
In contrast, high quality product is produced by Southeast Alaskan longline fisheries for which fishermen have their catch share pre-determined by their IFQs (Individual Fisheries Quota) so can fish in a more leisurely fashion, improving profits by attention to product quality rather than by increasing production.
Relaxing intensification to allow for leisurely production of high quality wild product would also benefit the resource as intense fishing results in more bycatch and habitat damage. But it would require extensive re-imagining of the current Southeast Alaskan shellfish fisheries management regime. IFQs are currently deemed unconstitutional for State fisheries. One of the main reasons for this is that they give ‘de facto’ ownership of the fishery to commercial fishermen. In the Alaska State Constitution, resources are owned equally by all State residents. This sounds like a really good idea, however, without explicit allocations to user groups, it puts Alaska square in the middle of the classic ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ described in 18th Century England, where resources owned by all are competed for and valued by none.
I had the good fortune to study for and obtain my Master of Science in Fisheries in Japan where there are thousands rather than hundreds of years of history in managing fisheries (not all of them successful). I studied a commercial shrimp fishery which is owned by the local fisheries cooperative who manage it based upon research advice from the regional government fisheries laboratory. Product is cooperatively produced by a small subset of vessels and the profits are shared by all.
Another interesting model is the Nova Scotia lobster fishery where harvest areas are opened consecutively throughout the summer, providing for a long season of fresh lobster availability and good quality and price to fishermen.
These ideas cannot be directly transferred to Southeast Alaska’s State fisheries, nor would we want to. While the implementation of IFQs for Federal fisheries in Alaska has improved product quality, it has also resulted in harvest share migrating out of small Alaskan communities and made entry difficult for young people. Expanding the IFQ approach to State-managed Alaskan fisheries would require harvestable surplus estimates and allocation plans between commercial, sport, and subsistence fisheries. It should also include mechanisms to keep permits in small communities. Other ideas that could be explored include permit buy-backs, permit stacking, and fishing days.
My intent here is not to imply a simple answer to the problem of intensification of fisheries but to suggest that a dialogue begin. As the importance of tourism in Southeast Alaska continues to increase, the success of the emerging local foods scene will be determined by modifying fisheries to provide fresh, high quality product throughout more of the year.