Miguel and Gertrude the kingfish

Miguel cleans Gertrude at Guayamare Beach. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle
Miguel cleans Gertrude at Guayamare Beach. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle

"KINGFISH, carite, cavalli and shrimp! Fresh fish, bring a bowl without a hole. One slice over rice."

Ahhhh, the sounds of fish vendors driving around the neighbourhood in their open-tray vans, squeezing their airhorns as if it were the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, or playing a recorded message with a witty slant.

Gertrude the king fish is chosen. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle

While the men of the seas still bring the creatures of the sea to you, you will also see many of them plying their trade in just about any location they deem a prime spot for trading.

When caught, a fish may change several hands before finally being consumed. Or it may go straight from the boat and roasted on a fireside on the beach, from the trawler or mother ship to the pirogue (that brings it ashore), to the van salesman (who may also be a fisherman), to the local street market, and finally to the consumer.

Today, we observe the passage of Gertrude the kingfish and Miguel the vendor/fisherman.

It's 7 am at the Toco Beach Facility, and the tranquillity is not yet disturbed. One man is using a twig to gather fallen almond leaves, placing them in a pile with other debris for burning.

He then levels the sand closest to the vending area. He is observed by another man sitting on a concrete slab, who makes his living by buying directly from the boat when it docks, and selling on the beach.

The first van vendor arrives at 7.30 am and the second just a few moments later. Vultures on the periphery are patiently awaiting their guaranteed meal; some perched on the 30-plus pirogues docked in the low tide.

Miguel of Miguel's Fishing Depot arrives just before 9 am, ready to do business. He's not fishing today, and his boat is among the many docked nearby. Instead, he will pack his freezers with ice and drive to the most strategic point to retail his stock.

As the pirogues come ashore one by one with their night's catch, the shoreline is now a buzz of activity. There are now seven van salesmen on the beach, parked close to where the fishermen offload their catch, and a handful of people waiting to get the best catch for their household.

Gertrude is a kingfish and was selected after Miguel bought many pounds of salmon. To positively identify Gertrude until he reaches the final customer, she was marked by placing an almond from the beach in her mouth. Gertrude was bought for $30 a pound and will be sold at $40.

Gertrude is weighed. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle

Miguel said, "Fishermen have no allegiance. Many times the fish is sold to the highest bidder. This (Lenten) season, kingfish was bought off the boat for between $27 and $30."

In 2019, kingfish sold for $20 during Lent. Last week it cost $35.

"Van men look for a bargain as well and so too the customer, especially if they are coming from a far distance. People love coming Toco and support the industry. I have been doing this for 20 years now. Fifteen of those I have been on the North Coast. "

While Miguel is buying salmon and shark to complete his day's purchase, a man is selling homemade pizza from his car.

Before leaving the beach with his fish stock and Gertrude safely stored in ice, he said, "I don't have to go Arima or Sangre Grande today, because I already made my calls for the morning. I know my people in La Horquetta and Arima still have fish. Today I should get more pensioners. "We have the best fish in the country, the best-rated with the highest demand."

Miguel stopped at several villages to run errands before stopping at Guayamare Beach, Cumana Village to set up his stall.

Before setting up, he cleans the area and removes the rubbish. He quickly pulls out a folded table, wooden cutting board, knives, water for cleaning, scale, cleaning cloths, a crate (to rest the cutting board on, for height) and a cigarette.

As he sharpens his knife, he answers the question on which fish is usually sold out first.

Miguel cleans Gertrude at Guayamare Beach. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle

"Any fish sells quickly, depending on price. What people don't know is the customer sets the price. Their demand for it does it.

"I buy fish from any port. This fish, (Gertrude) probably came from Blanchisseuse side or somewhere on the North Coast. The reason we buy the fish on the beach is because the Toco Depot is not functional."

A man driving a government-branded vehicle stopped to buy two salmon.

Gertrude was the next to go and was bought by Giselle from Arima, weighing three-and-a-quarter pounds, she went at $40 a pound.

"How do you want it sliced?"

Miguel gutted and sliced the fish at a slanted angle as ordered. Gertrude's almond marker remained in her mouth until it was time to clean the head.

Giselle said, "I'm not sure what I'm going to cook with it just yet. It depends on what my man wants."

The fish was bagged, placed in a small cooler and taken to Arima.

Giselle eventually cooked it on three separate occasions. The final pieces were used to make stew fish.

The fish is seasoned. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle

Giselle adds roucou to the stewed fish for flavour. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle

The fish is being stewed. - Photo by Angelo Marcelle

Stew fish - Photo by Angelo Marcelle


"Miguel and Gertrude the kingfish"

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