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:


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.

What fish does your market coolie buy?

Culinary time travel to 1962

“[…] foreign residents in HongKong usually confine their purchases of fish to a very few kinds. In the main the choice is restricted to groupers, ‘white salmon’, pomfret and Macao-sole. We believe that this limited selection is due to various causes of which ignorance on the part of house-wife and market coolie is one. In European fish markets far fewer varieties are offered for sale and the house-wife quickly learns to recognise the different kinds and to know their respective merits and the best way to cook them. Here, with perhaps a hundred varieties to choose from many strange shape and of unfamiliar brilliant colours, it is not surprising that no attempt is made to try out more than a few varieties, perhaps only those recommended by the salesmen as being the best,- possibly because they command the highest prices amongst foreigners. We hope that this book will encourage people to try kinds of fish which they have previously ignored as being unfamiliar and unsuitable.”

G.A.C. Herklots & S.Y. Lin, 1962, “Common Marine Food Fishes of Hong Kong”

Well, it is now 50 years since that book was published and I think it is time to put expat fish-eating habits to the test.

Foreigners of Expats of HK: what local fish species have you tried?
Take part in the online survey

Regardless of the result of this anonymous poll, I have set myself a task to eat all 50 fish in this charming book and prove to the world that I am not a ‘fishist’. I also think this will be an interesting exercise in sustainable fish eating and tell me something about changes in Hong Kong’s marine life since 1962. The relative success or failure/hospitalisation of this project will be shared with the world in this blog every week.
Having figured out what a ‘catty’ is (604 grams) and having selected my first three victims (Golden Sardine, White Herring or Hilsa Herring), I will try the first of 50 fish tomorrow. Wish me luck!

WWF: Sustainable Seafood Sourcing & Ocean-Friendly Menu

© Jürgen Freund / WWF-Canon
The public understands that the future of our seas is at risk and people are becoming more aware of how their tastes can affect this. They want to know how their seafood is caught and the impact it will have on the sustainability of the oceans. There is substantial demand for sustainable alternatives – now it is up to you to respond to this call.
The Seafood Choice Initiative – Business Engagement Programme is designed to provide assistance in advising on procurement policy and sourcing sustainable seafood

In addition, through the “Ocean-Friendly Menu” programme, WWF works with the hotel/restaurant to develop and roll out a menu featuring WWF’s sustainable seafood. On top of their current menus, the participating hotel/restaurant has to introduce an additional menu that contains only sustainable seafood.

Participating in the sustainable seafood movement allows your restaurant to catch the wave of sustainable seafood. It is an important step for the whole catering industry in responding to the public’s demand.

DOWNLOAD Business Engagement Programme
PDF 1.88 MB
Procedure for sourcing sustainable seafood and developing an “Ocean-Friendly Menu”

Step 1

The hotel/restaurant and WWF will discuss the approach and scope of sustainable seafood sourcing. This helps WWF in providing a tailor-made advice, while relevant staff of both parties will understand the work direction and time frame.

Step 2

The hotel/restaurant has to prepare and submit the information of an agreed number of seafood items to WWF, which includes:
The name and species of the seafood
The country of origin (where is the seafood from?)
The harvesting method (wild-caught or farmed?)
The supplier’s name and contact details

Step 3

WWF will assess the seafood sustainability categories and recommend alternatives for seafood listed under “Red – Avoid”. You can choose the alternatives recommended by us or simply pick another sustainable seafood dish. In case you have difficulty in finding suppliers for seafood items listed under “Green – Recommended” and “Yellow – Think Twice”, WWF will provide seafood suppliers from our assessed database.

Step 4
The restaurant can further work with WWF to roll-out Ocean-Friendly Menu(s) which contains only seafood items listed under “Green – Recommended” and “Yellow – Think Twice”.

For interested parties, please contact us via email.

Thank you for joining us in saving the future of our oceans.
Who is already sourcing sustainable seafood and providing an “Ocean-Friendly Menu”?

The following hotels/restaurants are now sourcing sustainable seafood and offering an “Ocean-Friendly Menu” according to the WWF Seafood Guide:
Aberdeen Boat Club
Eaton Smart, Hong Kong
InterContinental Hong Kong
Jumbo Kingdom
Lil’ Siam
Super Star Seafood Restaurant – 14 restaurants
The Banqueting House – 2 restaurants
The China House – 2 restaurants
The Helena May
The Hong Kong Jockey Club – 3 clubhouses
The Penthouse (Hang Seng Bank Headquarters)
Pacific Club – 5 outlets

Restaurants that also have the experience of sourcing and promoting sustainable seafood with WWF:
Choi Fook Royal Banquet
Coast Bistro and Bar
Conrad Hong Kong
Federal Palace
Gloucester Luk Kwok Hong Kong
Grand Central Bar & Grill
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Kowloonbay International Trade & Exhibition Centre
Ladies’ Recreation Club
La Perouse Restaurant Bar & Lounge
Linguini Fini
Marriott Hotels – 4 hotels
Maxim’s Chinese Restaurant
Maxim’s Palace
McSorley’s Ale House
Posto Pubblico
Shangri-la Hotels – 2 hotels
Shore Steak
Taku Japanese Cuisine
The Aberdeen Marina Club
The Mira Hong Kong
The Peninsula Hong Kong

(Numbers of outlets shown as reported by the catering group)

Original article from WWF

Stockings, Strainers and a jam jar – plankton fishing at Tai Long Wan

A group of Noctiluca scintillans
Source: Maria Antónia Sampayo, Instituto de Oceanografia, Faculdade Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa via Wikipedia.

The moon and stars shine dimly as the waves break on Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung on a hot summer evening, when the waves themselves light up with mini-fireworks as the waves crash on the damp sand. What is this magical display? Noctiluca scintillans (night-shining sparkling) also known as ‘Sea Sparkles’.
Sea Sparkles belong to a group of single-celled algae called dinoflagellates, that all share the same body plan: a single cell sometimes with armour plates, one long and one short hair, called flagella, that beat to move the cell along in the water or move water towards its mouth (technically a feeding groove). But Noctiluca scintillans is a bit special and here is why:

  • Its bioluminescent, that is it can make light using two chemicals stored separately in its cell, which cause light when mixed together. It’s just like a glow-stick where you bend the tube to crack an inner glass tube which releases a chemical into the rest of the tube and the two chemicals react producing light.
  • It’s not really an algae as it doesn’t photosynthesise. Instead of turning CO2 and H2O into sugars using solar-power, its more like an animal and eats other plankton both algae and animals.
  • It’s also into gardening. It likes to eat other algae, but instead of digesting them all it sometimes keeps them alive in little bubbles called vacuoles where they continue to photosynthesise. Imagine eating a potato and letting it just sit in a glass stomach to grow more potatoes and when it gets to full in your tummy, you digest a few spuds and leave the rest to grow more again….then you have the Noctiluca scintillans attitude to TV-dinners….can’t be bother to find new food all the time.

But whats all this got to do with stockings, strainers and jam jars?

Here is how I found Sea Sparkles using a home-made plankton net at Tai Long Wan (Sai Kung), and maybe you can, too:

Instructions for a make-shift plankton net
Ingredients: plastic spaghetti strainer, a pair of nylon stockings, some rubber bands and a few bits of string.
Directions: cut the strainer to leave only the circular opening as a frame for the net. Used one leg of the stocking and slip over the strainer frame and secure tightly with rubber bands. Attach string to three points on the frame and tie the ends together at  about 50cm length. Attach a rope to the knotted ends. Now cut a small hole in the foot end of the stocking and slip the stocking over a glass collection jar (clean jam jar, keep the lid for later), and secure tightly with rubber bands. Done!
Now tow it behind a kayak, dinghy or rowing boat for a couple of minutes, then gather up and remove the jar. All you need now is a magnifying glass or even better a microscope.

So when I looked at the plankton sample I gathered with this net under the microscope at home, I found Noctiluca scintillans, although it was pretty much dead at that point. It’s basically a super-thin bag jelly bag of air with two hairs coming off it. If you don’t have a microscope and are just using a magnifying glass, all you will see is round blobs up to 2mm in diameter. But if your sample is fresh and you are in a dark room or its night, give it a shake (close the lid first!) and maybe you will get some fireworks!

Two fatal cases of Vibrio vulnificus infection investigated

The Hong Kong government has given a press release about the deaths of two men from Vibrio vulnifcus on the 20th of June this year (2012) (press release).  V. vulnificus is a marine bacteria which can cause infection by ingestion (seafood) or through open wounds when swimming or wading in infected waters or via puncture wounds from the spines of fish such as tilapia. It prefers warm seawater or brackish (mixed fresh- and seawater) and occurs worldwide in warm salt-bearing waters and can be present in infected shellfish. It is a relative of the bacteria that causes cholera (Vibrio cholerae).

The infection presents itself with symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and a blistering dermatitis. In people with compromised immune systems, V. vulnificus is eighty times more likely to spread into the blood stream, when it can cause severe symptoms including blistering skin lesions, septic shock, and even death . Severe infection may occur regardless of whether the infection began via contaminated food or via an open wound. There is no evidence for person-to-person transmission.

One of the two men was found to have consumed raw mantis shrimp in an investigation. I would stress though that there seems to be no reason to assume that we are more at risk in HK than anywhere else. Infections also occur in US coastal waters, Japanese coastal waters and anywhere where infected shellfish is consumed. Given that shellfish is cold-stored and flown around the world in todays world, infections can happen almost anywhere. If you are concerned, the press release issued the following safety guidelines for the public:

People are reminded to adopt the following measures to prevent necrotizing fasciitis and Vibrio vulnificus infection:

* Avoid exposure of open wounds or broken skin to seawater or salty water;
* Wounds should be thoroughly cleaned and properly covered;
* Wear thick rubber gloves when handling raw shellfish;
* Cook seafood, especially shellfish (e.g. oysters, clams, mussels) thoroughly; and
* For shellfish, boil until the shells open and avoid cross-contamination of ready-to-eat food with raw seafood.

Patients should seek medical advice promptly if they develop symptoms and signs of infection such as increasing redness, pain and swelling.

It’s raining, it’s pouring, the divers are snoring

Hong Kong's waters as seen by NASA's MODIS instrument in October 2002
The eastern half is clearly more blue and oceanic, the western half more yellowy from the Pearl River Estuary’s influence
Credit: Jacques Descloitres Aqua MODIS Rapid Response Team NASA GSFC

With the rainy season now in full swing, it’s time to talk colors. Water color that is, and I don’t mean painting, I mean the color of the sea in HK.

It’s actually not the same everywhere, because if you live in Lantau Island on the western side, you are closer to the Pearl River Estuary which carries a lot of mud and silt down into the sea. That makes HK’s western waters murky and muddier, and because the Pearl River also carries a lot of minerals and nutrients down into the Sea, it makes for much better growing conditions for phytoplankton – microscopic algae that float around in the sea. That tends to turn the water color green or yellow, too.
But the eastern side of HK is a different story. Here the water is more oceanic and blue-green because there is no big source of mud and nutrients. Corals love warm, nutrient-poor and sunlit water, so you find them more on the eastern side of HK – basically as far away as they can get from the big rivers.
So what’s all this got to do with the rainy season? Well, a big tropical downpour washes soil, nutrients as well as all sorts of rubbish off the mountains and into the sea…anywhere, so river or no river, the water goes yellowy-green.

If you are a diver, this gives you two rules of thumb for visibility in HK waters:
– East is best, west is worst
– don’t bother diving after rain: the more rain, the longer you have to wait for decent visibility to return. For your typical typhoon I estimate at least 5 days.

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.