There is a legend which suggests that once you eat cascadoux you will stay in Trinidad for the rest of your days. I've eaten it an...meh. There are striking similarities between eating cascadoux and my career in the media; it's a hell of a lot of work for very little reward (duty to country is its own reward ent?).
The other name for this curious delicacy is "cascadura." It is an oddball member of the catfish family and its armour plating would present a challenge to any predator (with the exception of humans armed with a casting net and curry powder).People gush about eating cascadura as if it were a spiritual experience. Trying to clean that fish is like grappling with a razor-embedded bar of soap. It could just be that as a town folk I don't have the country know-how on the preparation of this Swiss-army fish.
Recently the cascadura shot into the spotlight (well it was spotted on the outer edges of the spotlight) as the Minister of Food Production Devant Maharaj floated the idea of restocking cascadura and river conch–another delicacy for many Trinis.The fact that this is being considered suggests that populations of both species are in decline.
It is not a new concern and several theories as to possible causes have been offered. In my opinion the concept of restocking in this instance seems like planting forest trees for squatters to burn.There ought to be a full understanding of the intricate nature of the problem before the promulgation of such a strategy. At any rate, we should not be exporting the grim dividends of our appalling ecological mismanagement to other countries.
Guyana could be a possible source of imports of cascadura: our neighbour to the south is 50 times the size of Trinidad. But they too face problems with overfishing. We may very well be contributing to their dilemma by creating an additional market for this much sought-after fish. One area known for cascadura and conch is Kernaham village, a community built up in an area along the west coast of Trinidad which was once dense swamp forest.
Opinion in the community about the cascadura-and-conch conundrum tends to vary. It has been suggested by some villagers that overfishing, particularly during the spawning period of the cascadura, in no small measure contributes to diminished stocks.Kernaham is almost like a floating village; solid land was created in many places by excavating the swamp and compacting the fill material to create the substrate for homesteads.
There is also a complex system of channels laid down almost like a grid throughout the community. These channels retain a connection with the sprawling Nariva swamp.With an ever-present demand for cascadura, the fish are gathered either with nets or bamboo traps placed strategically at major intersections used by the fish.
Additionally, this is a resource open to outsiders who may not appreciate the complex nature of the cascadura fishery in the village. Many a weekend warrior can be seen trying his hand at they cast nets all along the murky channels.The story is much the same with the river conch, a large freshwater snail which requires about twice the amount of preparation that the cascadura does. I've been told that the river conch is now harder to find in the village channels.
If you are a regular visitor to Mayaro, you may have noticed that vending stalls at the side of the coastal road typically stacked with the large purplish/black orbs are a bit more bare than usual.If conch hunters are to maintain the supply, it would mean venturing deep in the more foreboding areas of the Nariva Swamp, a risky prospect given the wide availability of less desirable game such as poisonous snakes, scorpions and other shiver-inducing critters.
One immediate intervention could be a rigidly enforced ban on the hunting of cascadura and conch during certain times of the year. The breeding and spawning period for the cascadura runs about three months.Lock that down and the species will certainly have a fighting chance at replenishing their numbers; the same could be said of the conch.
Incidentally, the blue and hairy crabs are facing the very same threat. They also breed during a very specific window in the calendar year. In fact, this is when they are most pressured by hunting.During the breeding season these crabs will run; in other words they can be seen swarming along drainage channels hugging the main roadway which skirts the Nariva Swamp.
As the crabs run, the humans run, filling up their bags with as many as they can carry. That haul often includes females which haven't had an opportunity to deposit their eggs in the water. So before we get to the stage of restocking, we can begin with the far less complicated strategy of an enforced close season for these species.Restocking without protection of the local species...you may as well simply deliver the fish directly to the fishermen for distribution.