Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Travel With Crabs: India

This Travel With Crabs post takes us across the pond to India with my friends Pat Barry and Caroline Schulz. They experienced tons of amazing things while there (a wedding, monkeys, and baby goats!!!) but the creature that really caught my eye was this guy:

a busy ghost crab rollin' up a mud ball

Ghost crabs (Ocypode spp.) are pretty awesome little crabs that are super fast: they can move up to 100 body lengths per second. If I could move that fast (and used my height as my "body length") I would sprint by you at 386 miles/hour! Watch out Usain Bolt! So, intrigued by Pat's photo, I thought I'd ask him and Caroline a few questions about their trip overseas.

Me: What part of India did you visit? Where did you encounter your ghost crab?

Pat: We were in Bangalore for a wedding, but we took a weekend trip to the state of Kerala. We saw these crabs on the beach in Kollam. There were hundreds of them on the beach!

Caroline: Kollam Beach is a popular tourist destination in the winter, but we were there during the summer and the beach was mostly deserted except for what appeared to be locals or local tourists, and of course lots of dogs and trash. Monsoon season meant the seas were pretty rough and the wind was blowing, but the wildlife (crabs, dogs and birds) seemed to be enjoying the lack of visitors. The crabs ranged from tiny tiny like spiders to almost as big as my palm.

Those suckers are fast - how were you able to snap that shot?

The little ones are much faster than the large ones, most likely due to the fact that the larger ones have grown past the gape limit of most of the predators (birds). The one pictured was cleaning its burrow... it was more distracted by the tons of sand in its home than by us.

You spent some time on the water. What were those stick-crane-like structures all over? Were they for fishing, and if so, what were they targetting?

We actually got to take a houseboat from Kollum to Alleppey, so we got to see a lot of fishing boats. The crane-like structures are Chinese fishing nets. They are all along the coast. I think they were much more common in the past, but most coastal fisheries are (I assume) pretty depleted, so most people get on huge ocean boats. The Chinese fishing nets seem to be more of a tourist attraction than a means of commercial fish harvest. You can pay to have people pull them. From the few times I saw them pull the nets there wasn't much being caught. They do seem to be in prime nursery habitat which might account for all the baby sharks I saw in the markets.
fish market selection

I think the Chinese fishing nets that we saw in the backwaters are probably still used in small commercial fisheries, although the ones near Fort Kochi are definitely for show. One thing we noticed about the fishing nets is that they have lights on them which might attract fish to swim into the nets at night!

(It says here that many fishermen earn their livelihoods from Chinese fishing nets, so perhaps that includes fishermen entertaining tourists and those who sell to markets.)

What was the craziest thing you saw at that fish vendor? Other than fish, did they have any crabs or crustaceans?

Craziest thing at the fish vendor? Caroline made friends with a stray goat by petting it. It was super dirty and the people there don't even touch the stray goats. That was crazy.

Caroline gettin' crazy with a goat!
But who can blame her?!? Look at this little guy!
I'd take him home and name him Gevrik. 

There were some hella weird fish, but for me to say that doesn't mean much because I only know about fish that are from Alaska. Pat made me give my fine point Sharpie pen (most valuable possession in purse!) to the fishwallah so he could take pictures of the fish, but then the fishwallah got really into it and posed and grabbed a lot of fish and was a really good sport. I think I was most surprised by the baby sharks. They had lots of shrimp and crustaceans at the fish markets, and it seemed like those were popular with the Anglo tourists because all the fish vendors were like "prawns madame you buy we cook". It doesn't surprise me, because I feel like American tourists at least would be more comfortable picking up shrimp at a fish market than whole unidentified fish. Isn't shrimp the most consumed seafood by pound in the US? 

(You know it!)

At the wedding, did they serve any crabby dishes? 

At the wedding there wasn't a ton of fish or crab served. The family was from the North so the food was more reflective of their traditional dishes.

Pat's right about the wedding - they're North Indian and seafood isn't that common in North Indian cuisine. In South India, however, there's tons of seafood! The first time I was in India I ate some tiny delicious crab and I made a big mess. This time we didn't eat any crab, but we did have really good shrimp and fish. The seafood in South India is the bomb. We ate some really delicious fish dishes and some sort of weird fish dishes. I think the weirdest ones were when they'd fry steaks of really small fish and they weren't filleted or anything so they were SO FULL of bones and they were also kind of fried to the texture of a hockey puck.

 Caroline and Pat at the wedding

Anything else you'd like to share about your trip?

The number of boats that we saw cruising through the backwaters was amazing. Occasionally we would see a small operation (two people in what looked like a dug out canoe fishing a long gill net), but for the most part there were these massive boats coming and going. We didn't get to see them pull any of the nets, but the type of vessel that they were setting from was different than anything I have ever seen.

Yes, I agree, the fishing boats were really cool. Pat took about 1,000 photos of them. I definitely wonder about fisheries management in India - to what extent has overfishing changed the nature of the fisheries economy there? Do they export fish to other parts of the country? Are there big processors? We didn't see any - and they probably aren't industrial like the ones we have. The capital-labor ratios in India are a lot different. I definitely recommend a trip to India! Pat and I have to go back sometime because we didn't get to see enough! I love the food and Pat loved that the coffee in South India is like one-to-one sugar to coffee.

1 of the 1,000 pictures of the neat fishing boats

Thanks Pat and Caroline for sharing your trip and that awesome ghost crab picture with us!

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