Gail Capstick reminisces on ‘picking’ shrimp in Morecambe Bay. 

The brown shrimps (Crangon crangon) caught in shallow waters in Morecambe Bay are smaller than prawns, are brown rather than pink and their taste is also different. 

These shrimps have been caught in the Bay from Tudor times, at least since the 16th century, and have been an integral part of the food system for years (although from the 1930s they were perhaps more expensive than previously).

In some parts of the Bay, a small net is used to catch them by boat, while in Flookburgh and other places, a tractor is used to drag a net. In earlier generations, a horse and cart would be used, while in Morecambe it was usually done by boat, often built by Crossfields at Arnside, also referred to as a Nobby.

From Bay to plate

In the 20th century, shrimping from Morecambe would be done with boats off the shore dragging a trawl net with a small mesh along the seabed. The net would be hauled in, and the shrimps would be riddled with a metal sieve to remove items that were too small.

The translucent shrimps would then be tipped into a large cauldron of sea water and boiled whilst fishermen were still on the boat. The shrimps would be taken on land to be ‘picked’ – a labour-intensive process that removes their shells. As a teenager I picked for a local fisherman and could process just over 2 lbs per hour.

The shrimping industry has changed considerably in recent years. Raymond Edmondson on Yorkshire Street in Morecambe is one of the few firms still catching and potting shrimps in Morecambe. According to their website “They catch, pick and pot fresh Morecambe Bay shrimps nearly every day, depending on the weather”.

 Today shrimps are also sold in plastic cartons rather than the previously used ceramic pots. 

Shrimping futures 

Shrimps are sometimes served on their own or potted in clarified butter with a little added pepper or other seasoning and served cold with brown bread or toast.

Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall has described Morecambe’s shrimps as ‘unbelievably good’. British chef Marco Pierre White has commented that they are ‘the best in the world’ and featured them on his programme Great British Feast. 

However, it is important to question the extent to which eating them can be advocated. Consideration needs to be given to whether their numbers are diminishing and how some methods of obtaining them, e.g., trawling damages the seabed. To read the full ‘Shrimping Cultures’ article and other pieces that explore food cultures past and present, see the harvest edition of THRIVE Magazine.

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