Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Creatures from the 'Essex' Deep

Shrimping every day for a week gives you a clear sense of the location, the fauna and the ability to reflect on previous year's catches and to talk each day to members of the public and interested children. We haven't seen a hermit crab for a couple of years and the only one we caught this week was when I put out the lobster pot over night on the Thursday, also clearly the best way to catch a lot of healthy large shore crabs. I was surprised that a hermit crab ventured out over the seabed and managed to climb into the lobster pot, perhaps they're more active at night ? Also some years there are few pipe fish, prawns or flat fish but this year we caught a lot of all of these. There were 5 or 6 pipe fish in an hour's shrimping consistently over the first 3 days and then they seemed to disappear later in the week, whereas the juvenile flat fish were caught more frequently as the week went on and Angus caught loads on the last day. If you consider each long breakwater to be a sort of reef, with the last 8 sections remaining underwater at all states of the tide, then the catch might vary simply because we fish the same site day after day. The prawns re-stock day after day but favour the left hand breakwater over the right, possibly because the woodwork overhangs and creates a habitat for them. The flatfish were caught on the open sand at low tide, where the sand shrimps are caught, and as with so many of the creatures they were clearly immature and I wonder if the low shallow warm sea around the Essex coast acts as a sort of nursery for fry, with the low sandy visability perhaps also protecting them from larger predators. No sign of weaver fish this week but lively 5 bearded rockling, dab, plaice, pipe-fish and a wonderfully characterful 'Shanny' with it's frog-like face and jumpy manner.

The highlight of the week was a clump of cuttlefish eggs which we kept hold of all week, having found a clump so now able to recognise the water filled bladders distinguishing them from the air filled floats of the sea weeds. Two baby cuttlefish hatched on the second morning and then, with two changes of water each day, the majority of the brood hatched on the last day. The baby cuttlefish were born almost white and quite still but within hours they were darker, more active and already demonstrating that they could produce ink and change colour at will. So perfectly formed and otherworldly as they used their jet propulsion to hover about the jar but almost impossible to photograph and film, as quite unpredictable and each only about 1cm in length. I tried to record the different species more carefully this year and photographed them alongside a 2p piece to get a sense of scale before releasing them back into the sea and packing up the containers and nets for another year.


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