Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/16

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[Dec. 26, 1863.
ONCE A WEEK.

THE HADDOCK AND JOHN DOREE.

 

 

In treating of these two interesting sea-fish, I have thought it desirable to speak of them conjointly, rather than devote to each a separate paper: firstly, because a short account of each is all that is required to interest the readers of this series of fish-papers; and secondly, because both the haddock and John Doree lay claim to the singular title of "St. Peter's fish." On the side of each of these fish, and close beneath the gills, there is a dark mark, very strongly resembling the impression of a man's finger and thumb; and from this fact a legend has arisen that either the haddock or John Doree must be the fish out of the mouth of which St. Peter took a piece of money, as related in the Bible.

Without discussing the pros and cons of the case, I own to thinking that there is a certain poetical beauty in this sort of legend, which, though often entirely opposed to facts, has yet a great fascination for the students of natural history. I will, however, at once pass on to the description of the two fish I have selected to speak of in the present paper, and will give the place of honour to the haddock.

Haddock are perhaps the most interesting of all the fish classed under the head of the Cod-tribe, and are always much sought after for the London market. The best haddock are those of the North Sea and of the Irish Channel, and those taken off the Shetland Isles; but those of the Irish Channel are so excellent, that the name of "a Dublin haddock" has passed into a proverb. Probably, when sent to table fresh, and when properly served up, there is no sea-fish that can excel it.

Haddock, of late years, have become very much scarcer than they were some twenty years ago, and this I attribute to the wholesale destruction of small fish. I have before remarked[1] that much injustice has been done to the "trawl-net" by the assertion of its opponents that it is destructive to the spawn of sea-fish. The "trawl" certainly does destroy spawn, but only in a very minor degree, as it cannot be used on the rocky spawning-beds.

It is astonishing that people do not see that the real reason for the scarcity of sea-fish is the want of protection for the brood-fish at spawning-time. I will not here repeat all that I said before on the subject, but I will say that as long as the salmon, trout, perch, and all fresh-water fish are protected by law at the spawning-time, it is extraordinary that our lawgivers cannot see the urgent necessity of protecting the cod, herring, haddock, and in fact all sea-fish, in like manner. Great Britain's wealth in sea-fisheries might be quadrupled by the very simple justice of allowing the fish to rest during the period when they are propagating their species.

Haddock are taken both in the trawl-net and with hooks, those taken in the latter way being far the best fish. Good fresh haddock are always in demand for the London market, and their price varies from eightpence to three shillings. The supply is rarely equal to the demand, for the fish appear to grow scarcer and scarcer, and consequently it is a rarity to obtain a fresh haddock in London at anything like a low price. The best way of dressing a haddock for the dinner-table is to take a fresh plump fish, of not less than three pounds' weight: then stuff with sweet herbs, as I have recommended for Jack: boil the fish carefully, so that it shall not break in the dressing, and serve it up garnished with slices of lemon and oyster or shrimp sauce, though some prefer fennel-sauce to either. Dried haddock are exceedingly fine for a breakfast relish, and a peat-smoked haddock from Ireland will bear away the palm from almost anything.

These haddock, cured as I have tasted them, have an exquisite flavour, very similar to that of a Westphalia ham. They are cheaper than the fresh fish, because, being cured on the spot where they are taken, no cost is incurred by the hurry of sending them off to London in time to be eaten whilst fresh—an expense which takes one-third off the profit of fish sent to Billingsgate. Small-sized codfish are very often cured and smoked, and passed off on unwary purchasers for "Dublin Bay haddock." But this fraud is easily detected by the practised connoisseur in fish; for the haddock has a dark-chocolate stripe extending the whole length of its body from the eye to the fork of the tail, whereas the cod has no such distinction. A great many haddock are taken off the Orkneys and Shetlands, on the long lines used for taking cod, tusk, ling, and other deep-sea fish; but the greater part of those supplied to London are net-fish, and consequently Londoners rarely get prime fresh haddock, however they may flatter themselves they do.

The weight of the haddock in general extends from one to seven pounds. I never saw a haddock taken with spawn in it; but from what I can gather I incline to believe that they spawn twice in the year, as does the herring—viz., in April or May, and again in
  1. See vol. ix., p. 252.