My Travel Book - Fishing Sand Eels in Northern Brittany

Summer has been quite fickle lately in Northern Brittany. One day, it is very autumnal and the next day, the weather turns out to be so gorgeous that people flock to the beaches.

My favorite beach was quite crowded yesterday, meaning that I had a hard time parking there.

I had another choice. I love to go to Fréhel close to the Cap except that I always feel it is too far away... But yesterday I made up my mind and I drove to Fréhel. There are quite a few very beautiful beaches there. Huge sandy expanses and lots of rocks around.

The whole area is well known for its magnificent golden sands almost unique in Northern Brittany.

The rocks bring creeks into being here and there. They do break the monotony such a huge space would induce.

I started to walk along the shore as usual. Barefoot of course. The water was quite warm. And the colors were sumptuous.

Past the first rocky outcrop, I noticed two men who were setting down some unusual long net on the sand. They were obviously getting ready to wade through the shallow water there. The place looked strange almost like a lagoon. Very transparent waters over a very sandy bottom.

I am curious about everything. I stopped to watch the fishermen. What were they so intent on fishing?

It couldn’t be shrimp fishing. The net was much too long and too fine meshed. It couldn’t be bass for the very same reason besides the fact that you usually use a fishing rod or a line to fish bass.

But one never knows. You meet crackpots everywhere after all. Even on a beach in Northern Brittany.

But those guys looked like they knew what they were doing. I stayed there totally mesmerized. 

I was not the only bystander even though the beach was quite deserted.
 The two men were acting as a very efficient team, pulling the net behind them while they were getting deeper and deeper in the water. While they were walking back and forth, they’d tap the surface with their free hand. From time to time. It looked very strange.

Then they’d come closer to the shore to check their net. From time to time.

And then they’d go back into the water and resume their long walk through waters that were ebbing and getting much less deep by the minute.

I sneaked away for a while and kept on walking along the shore but not for long. You see, I had to know what they were doing.

The sea was getting shallower and rocks were rising out of the water behind them. The place they had chosen to fish looked more and more like a lagoon. A very small one but a lagoon all the same.

Suddenly the net looked heavier. They were pulling quite hard.

And they came up to the shore while dragging the net very carefully out of the water.

The guy in the red shirt walked by me to grab a pail they had left on the beach. He was the quiet one. Much older than his friend and obviously not as used to this kind of fishing as his team-mate. I may be wrong though...

There they were... Quite a handful of small fish caught in the net. Well actually more than a handful... One catch and probably much more than ten kilos of fish.

We got talking of course. The fish are sand eels. They look like very small eels indeed. One of the fishermen dropped one of them on the sand. True to its name, the sand eel buried itself in the sand and disappeared so fast that I didn’t even have time to take a picture!

Usually people fish them using very special rakes. They rake up the sand on the beach at low tide. You have to be quite swift to grab those slippery sand eels before they bury themselves again in the sand.

The net which by the way is called a “seine” has to comply with extremely strict regulations. If I understood right, you also need some kind of a special license to fish sand eels with a net because of the potential size of your catch. In order to protect the species I imagine.

One of the men, the communicative one of course, explained to me that there are only two places in the area where you can fish sand eels with a net.

You see, I was right about fishing in some kind of a lagoon. And “lagoons” are very scarce in Northern Brittany. If you look closely at the pictures, you’ll notice that the men started fishing in a seemingly very open area but  with the ebb tide, rocks appeared in the background.

Those rocks surround a  huge natural pool, totally invisible at high tide. Sand eels get there because of its nice sandy bottom. When the tide goes out, they get caught in a very simple but real trap.

The seine is weighed down by sinkers and it scrapes the sand off. The sand eels start swimming. They get caught by the net that is tightened up in the middle and they can’t escape from the trap.

The reason why the two men repeatedly hit the water with their free hand was to get the fish to move around and hopefully end up caught in the net.

You can’t fish sand eels this way day after day, every month of the year. The lagoon must have a certain depth. Not too much but just enough. 
And the water must be very calm. All of this considerably cuts down sand eel net fishing, at least in Brittany.

A lady came over to look at their catch and she said: “But what will you do with those fish? Are they edible?”

“Yes, they sure are. Tonight, we’ll have fried fish for supper. It will be a real feast!”

Well, I only hoped that their families were very large because they had fished an awful lot of sand eels in less than one hour!

*Good Luck, and Good Night*

1 comment:

Myrna said...

What a beautiful picture-essay. Gorgeous, interesting.