Hello And Goodbye Gaspereaux

Whether you call them Gaspereau, Alewives or Kyacks, they’re pretty tasty.

The Gaspereau are a small herring that are found across most of the eastern seaboard, from Newfoundland all the way to North Carolina.  A fully developed gaspereau is  usually between ten and twelve inches in length and weighs close to 12 ounces.  Nowadays, the majority of the fish are used as bait for lobster fishing or for making petfood – most people find the preparation of such a small and very bony fish quite tedious. But in rural Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the fish are still caught, and it is there that they have left their strongest mark.

Nova Scotia has the Gaspereau river, where the fish were caught by the local indigenous populations as well as the first Acadian settlers – which probably explains my fast fondness for the flavour of the fish. As for which came first, the name of the river, the community, or the fish, is a bit of a chicken and egg story, but needless to say, it is a tasty one.

They are often smoked or pickled, as most people find them too fatty or oily for eating on their own.  But this high fat content makes them perfect for curing and smoking.  It is the latter that I had the chance to eat while on a recent trip through the southwestern parts of New Brunswick.  The St. John River is teeming with gaspereau in late April and early May.  It seemed a rather fitting snack, as the home where I was staying was only a few feet from the river, and I saw a few people in dories and canoes out fishing the few days I spent there.

Like most regional delicacies, it’s all about who you know.  My partner’s father took me to meet a barrel-chested and suspendered man who sold us a two pound bag of the shiny smoked goodies.  He said that he usually cures/brines them, and then smokes them over maple wood, finishing them off with a maple syrup glaze.  This is not a commercial deal, it’s just for him, his friends and the occasional lucky visitor.

If you do find yourself lucky to get some smoked gaspereau, be sure to double, if not triple bag them.  They are wonderfully rich, but so is their aroma, and if you’re not careful, your fingers and anything the fish come in contact with will start to smell like smoked fish. Oh, and don’t open a bag/container/etc of them in a warm car. Your company might not like it.

Driving to St. John just as the sun was starting to rise, I caught sight of a local man setting up his fishing rod, probably getting ready to start fishing.  The locals in the area are permitted to catch up to twenty a day for their own purposes, but I’ve been told that whole families will go out to the river, just in case the game warden shows up, grandpa can say that his grandkids caught their own batches.