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Fish #89 Greater Forkbeard Phycis blennoides ~ Teresa Hodges
Acrylic 20 cm x 50cm
Phycis Blennoides, the Greater Forkbeard, is found throughout European waters, from Norway and Iceland, the North Sea and the NE Atlantic, to the western Mediterranean and the coast of Senegal.
They grow up to 3ft in length, and weigh up to 7lb. Living in deep offshore waters, with larger specimens moving into even deeper places, they are happy with seabeds ranging from rock and coral to sand and mud. Smaller fish feed on marine worms, dislodged shellfish, prawns and shrimps. Larger fish are also partial to small fish and squid.
The Encyclopaedia Metropolitana (1845) describes the name, Phycis, as from the Greek 'psári,' "so-called from being supposed to live among sea-weed." On the west coast of Ireland, it has long been known by fishermen as Sweaty Betty, a name recently taken up by an enterprising fishmonger and restauranteur. In Cornwall, it is known as Plus-Fours. In "Food in the Ancient World A-Z" Andrew Daley notes it was one of several fish known in Latin as Asellus, "little donkey," and its minced flesh used in "milk patina," an ancient version of a kind of blancmange, a dish I think should perhaps remain in ancient times...
Not commonly used in cooking, it has recently been proving popular on plates in Galway, partly as a result of the Fisheries Discard Plan, the policy of not discarding unwanted catch championed by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. However, the Marine Conservation Society has given the Greater Forkbeard its highest rating of 5 (avoid eating). As a deep water species, it and its environment are under threat from commercial deep sea trawling, and its deep water habitat poses problems in assessing population numbers.
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