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Fish #191 Greater Sandeel Hyperoplus immaculatus ~ Fiona Barnes
a.k.a. Sand Lance or Launce, Greater Sand Eels aren't really eels. They are long, slender, round fish with a pointed head and two-toothed mouth, which inhabit sandy bottoms near shore, from the low tide mark to about 100 meters in depth. The dorsal fins are very long - two-thirds of the overall length of the fish; the anal fin runs about a third of the body. There are dark marks along the face. Colour ranges from yellow-green to grey-green to nearly black along the back and upper sides, to bright silver or white on the lower sides and bottom.
The Greater Sand Eel is truly great. Where other species of sand eel are 6-10 cm long at maturity, the Greater Sand Eel can reach 35 cm in length! They are carnivores, the young feed on plankton and fish larvae, while larger, more mature specimens feed on shoals of small fish like mackerel and garfish and will even take small crustaceans.
The Greater Sand Eel is native to the eastern North Atlantic, from Murmansk to Spitsbergen and the Baltic, as far west as Iceland and as far south as Portugal. They are not known in the Mediterranean. Sand eels travel, feed and breed in huge cloud-like schools. To protect themselves from predators they burrow into the sandy sea bottom, hence their most common name.
Most small (5 to 10cm) Greater Sand Eels are harvested commercially as a by-catch with other smaller species of sand eels destined for the fish meal and aquaculture industries. The Greater Sand Eel can however, reach 35cm in length, and can be caught by hook and line. Anglers fishing for mackerel, using spinners, daylights and feathers, can often catch Greater Sand Eels. Sand Eels may be foul-hooked due to the way that they attack lures. In some places, Greater Sand Eels can be dug out of low tide sands with shovel and bucket.
Larger Greater Sand Eels can be cleaned and pan-fried or baked like any other fish. British cooks often batter and deep-fry the smaller fish. In Japan and parts of Russia, smaller sand eels are caramelized in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and fresh ginger, in a sweet and spicy dish called Ikanago no Kugini:
Dissolve the sugar into the soy sauce in a deep pot. Add the Mirin and sake and swirl to combine. When the mixture comes to a boil, add a handful of sand eels followed by a handful of ginger, allowing each addition to foam and cook for a minute or two. Repeat until all the fish are added. Do not stir as the fish are delicate and will fall apart. Simmer for about an hour, until virtually all the liquid is cooked away, then add the starch syrup, toss gently (do not stir) and cook until the rest of the liquid is gone. Drain the caramelized fish in a wire strainer. Use as a topping for a bowl of rice, or as an appetizer to a main meal.
About the artist.
A hobby crocheter who usually makes blankets, scarves and bags, although she has more recently made 2 dachshunds!! She enjoyed making the Greater Sand Eel, it is the size of a fully grown adult but its colouring is her own interpretation. Please feel free to handle "Sandy" - the sand eel, gently and hide him among the folds of the sand blanket for protection from predators!!!
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