Tuesday, April 23, 2019

SENA19: Eating Ogusokumushi, an Ancient Sea Creature

The Japanese refer to them as Ogusokumushi, which translates as "giant armored bug." In some places, they are also referred to as "underwater pill bugs." Their scientific name is Bathynomus giganteus, the Giant Isopod. Isopod isn't an appealing name so that's going to be an obstacle in of itself. In addition, they kind of resemble a mutant cockroach so that's another obstacle. However, despite these obstacles, this sea creature could soon be finding itself on your dinner plate.

At the Seafood Expo North America (SENA), I stopped at the Tropic Seafood booth to check out this unusual creature. Tropic Seafood is based on Nassau in the Bahamas, and was first MSC Certified lobster fishery in the Bahamas. They are also a processor and packer of seafood products native to the Bahamas and Caribbean, including Golden Crab, Olive Flounder, Spiny Lobster and Bahamian Conch.

In one of their water tanks, there were several Giant Isopods, and that blue tint was part of the tanks so you don't get to see their natural color. Yes, they look like armored bugs but also have elements common to lobsters and crabs. And if you can eat a lobster, then eating a giant isopod shouldn't be much of a stretch.

Giant isopods are a type of crustacean, like crabs and shrimp, and they are also the largest member of the isopod family, of which there are about 10,000 varieties. They are related to land-based pill bugs so it isn't too farfetched to call them underwater pill bugs. Fossils of isopods date back at least 300 million years ago, and they haven't changed much since that time. Giant isopods are also subject to "deep sea gigantism," where deep sea creatures grow to be much greater in size than if they inhabited shallower waters. They can grow to be over 16 inches long, a far greater size than any other isopod.

Despite the fact that giant isopods are easy to find and harvest in the seas, commercial fishing is still quite tiny. Most of the giant isopods that are caught by fishermen are merely bycatch. It seems that Japan, and other Asian countries, are the primary consumers of giant isopods, and even then it is still rather an uncommon and more unique food. Tropic Seafood hopes to change that, and one way is through promoting the consumption of giant isopods within the U.S. It won't be an easy sell but I'm intrigued by the idea.

I was told that giant isopods, which are commonly cooked by steaming, have meat in the legs and bodies, which is said to taste similar to blue crab. In addition, female isopods have roe, which resembles uni, but it also is said to taste like blue crab. It is most commonly found in sushi restaurants, though there isn't any reason why it wouldn't fit on the menu of any seafood restaurant in the U.S. Unfortunately, they didn't have any samples of giant isopod to taste, so I can't say whether it actually tastes like crab or not. I'll be keeping an eye out though for any restaurant that serves it so I can give it a try.

As I've said before, American consumers need to eat more different varieties of seafood, and not just the most popular top ten. 90% of the seafood species consumed in the U.S. fall within this top ten, including Shrimp, Salmon, Tuna, Tilapia, Alaska Pollock, Pangasius, Cod, Crab, Catfish, and Clams. By limiting ourselves to these ten species, we put heavy pressures on those seafood populations, causing sustainability issues. We need to ease those pressures by lowering consumption of those species, and consuming other species that don't have sustainability issues. We have to give the populations of those ten common species more time to rebound and recover.

By limiting ourselves to primarily ten species, we are also hurting the economic situation of our fishermen, driving some of them out of business. Fishermen harvest many other different seafood species but there is little market for many of those species so they can't earn much money from those catches. If Americans started consuming more of those less common species, the market for them would grow, helping fishermen make more money.

Get over your psychological barriers! Don't be afraid of something unfamiliar and take a chance on a different fish. It is time now to stop eating the same old fish all the time and experiment with less common seafood, to broaden your palate. As I wrote yesterday, more people should eat rabbit. And today, I'm asking people to eat more types of seafood, including a giant armored bug like the Giant Isopod!

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