Have you ever pulled the skin off a dog fish?

I had been out with Tommy in his boat Freeedom watching him and Joe pull up their lobster pots. It was good work for the afternoon. Freedom surged out of Kitchen Cove into the thick width of the Bay. It only took a couple of minutes to get to Owen island covering a distance that might take us ten or twenty minutes in one of our boats. Stood behind the cabin of Freedom the bay seemed suddenly smaller and compact.

Tommy took the boat out to just short of the heads. They worked along the side of the North Shore, Joe hauling in the orange buoy that marked the line of pots with a heavy boat hook and the pots then being hauled in on a powerful electric winch. As each pot came out of the water they had about 30 seconds to deal with it before the next one came up.

The door of the pot was quickly opened and the pot then tipped so whatever was inside could be grabbed at. If it was a lobster or crab it was taken out and placed in one of the plastic trays. Most of the pots had some star fish and sea urchins in them. The star fish were often twlelve inches across and Tommy cursed them as their rasping teeth would tear at the wire that held the pots together. They were thrown back into the sea.

Other pots had dogfish in them, sometime three or four together. They were steel grey or black, thuggish and thick with dead eyes and mouths that twisted back to try and bite at Tommy as he pulled them by the tail with gloved hands and threw them back in the water. There was something dull and evil about them, small sea serpents dragged up from the deep twisting and turning in the air.

Later that day I was back in the pub talking to the man with a black beard and I asked him if anyone ever ate dogfish.

‘Feck no,’ he said. ‘The only fish worth eating you can catch in the bay are mackerel and pollack. There used to be others but they have gone now. There even used to be salmon that would come back to swim up The Black River in Durrus. But they’ve not been back since they planted the trees in the hills up the back and they poisoned the water.’

‘Now there are people who will eat dogfish but the bastard thing is getting to them. They are easy enough to catch out there if you put a piece of mackerel on a hook with some heavy line but they take some killing once they are in the boat and if a big one gets loose there it can smash the bottom of a boat up with its tail. You need a heavy sack to put it in  and when its tied up in there sit on the fecker to hold it still and try hit its head with a hammer.’

‘Their skin is like a hard metal rasp and it will blunt a sharp knife and sheer off your skin if you’re not careful. To take the skin off you need to be wearing a pair of heavy boots, leather gloves, a small saw and thick set of pliers. Take off the fins with the saw and then use the saw to cut a line around the back of its head. You then need to take a flap of skin from round this line with the pliers and squeeze as hard as you can. Put the head of the fish under your boot and then pull as hard as you can. If you get it right the skin will come away like pulling off your sock at the end of the day.’

‘To eat them fry them in a coating of heavy flour and splash with brown vinegar.’

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