Barbados has long been known as ‘The Land Of The Flying Fish.’ The island’s warm waters, which are rich in miniscule plant and animal organisms, provide an excellent food source for the flying fish, which in turn have provided Barbadians with a high-protein dietary staple for centuries.
To see a teeming shoal of these silver and blue creatures – their biological name being ETINURDICHTHYS AFFINIS – leap from the seas and take to the air is simply a breathtaking experience. Cruise line passengers and local Barbadian fishermen alike have reported seeing schools as large as 1,000 fish-strong leap into the air and glide for distances of 70 feet and more.
It is further estimated that they can travel at speeds approaching 55 kilometres per hour and stay airborne for over 10 seconds at a time. It is their 2 pectoral fins and their 2 ventral fins that fan out to act as wings, while the flying fish’s tail fin is what serves to propel them in flight. Leaping mainly to avoid large predatory fish, they will ultimately return to the water once their fins become dry.
Flying fish are mainly found 8 to 40 km offshore and, as they swim in shoals, they are easily caught in gill nets. Local fisherman, however, have also been able to use their special knowledge of this species to implement other methods of fishing them. For instance, it is known that flying fish are attracted to floating objects on to which they attach their orange eggs, which otherwise will sink. Fisherman, therefore, sometimes will place “cane trash” (the discarded leaves from the sugar cane stalks) on top of the water in order to attract the fish. In May, therefore, when the fish are spawning, hundreds can be scooped up from the sea surface using dip or landing nets.
Over the years, the women of the southern fishing town of Oistins have perfected the art of filleting the flying fish. It is then traditionally served in a rich tomato gravy over rice or cou-cou (a corn-meal pudding of sorts), or seasoned, battered and fried. Either way, our Barbadian flying fish is delicious!
Author: Brett Callaghan