The commercialisation of prawns is a relatively new phenomenon, considering the length of time that highlanders have been catching herring and salmon. The 1960s and 1970s saw the new and improved reputation of sea food such as prawns, crab and shellfish. For many years they had been deemed peasant food but their introduction into the common market with new fishing methods, made them fashionable, and elevated their status to what we know today are the most spectacular scottish langoustine.
Traditionally prawns are caught using a trawler, which drags a net across the sea bed scooping up the catch into the net. However, on the West coast of Scotland the preferred method of catching prawns is by using a creel. The D creel design is much lighter than a traditional lobster pot and requires daily maintenance to ensure the prize does not escape.
The west coast langoustine may be world famous but they certainly made their mark on the local community. As part of the Lochbroom Lives project by Ullapool Museum, Shona Wilson recollects her husband starting up their prawn business with her father not long after they moved to Coigach in 1974. “They bought a boat called “The White Heather” from Fraser Muir which they worked together. When my sister and her husband moved to Coigach “The White Heather’ was sold and a larger boat, “The Loch Roge”, was purchased so that all three men could be involved in the prawn fishing.” They were assisted by other locals who were also setting up as to the best places where to set their creels down. The prawns had to be taken to the market in Ullapool every night, from there the prawns went abroad. Shona has fond memories of this time and describes the feeling of being carefree.
Iain Boyd tells Ullapool Museum about the representative from Moray Seafood, Mr Eckersley, who would arrive in Ullapool in a Rolls Royce once a year to have a meeting with the fishermen to agree on the prices for the prawns for the next twelve months. He recalls fondly one of the fishermen joking with Mr Eckersley by jibing “my prawns bought you that Rolls Royce”, and Charlie Eckersley said “No, Billy, breadcrumbs bought me that Rolls Royce”. To increase the profit margin, very little of the catch would be wasted, “ what they would do was, they’d put them through again with more batter and breadcrumb them again, so in actual fact was . . instead of paying £1 a pound, shall we say, for prawn tails, you were paying £2, £1 for the prawn tail and £1 for the breadcrumbs, and of course breadcrumbs are cheap. Oh, he didn’t make any bones about it. “No, no Billy”, he said “breadcrumbs bought me that Rolls Royce”.
Today prawns from the minch are as popular as ever and the Award Winning Seafood Shack in Ullapool ensures that the freshest catch makes it to the plates of hundreds of people every week. The Bon Ami currently supplies the Seafood Shack and it is owned by Josh Talbot and Heddle Costie, skippered by Josh with his crewman Dave. The boat goes out daily and fishes for langoustines, lobster, spineys and crab. They use creels/pots to catch their shellfish as a sustainable alternative to trawling.
Seafood Shack in Ullapool
Seafood Shack Book: https://www.seafoodshack.co.uk/shop
Simrad Echo Sounder; ULM 2004 006: Copyright Ullapool Museum
Kildonan Trawler in the North Minch copyright Iain MacIver
Header Image of Kildonan Trawler copyright Iain MacIver
Harvest lily UL 32: Copyright Aitivated
Kildonan UL145: Copyright Kevin Munro