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Arne Duinker smells the half-frozen lump before the celebrity chef gets his hands on this unusual catch.

Photo: Erlend A. Lorentzen / Institute of Marine Research

Strange fish from the deep blue sea – are they tasty?

It looks strange, smells odd and has never been tasted before. So what happened when a celebrity chef served the “seafood of the future” to five researchers at the Institute of Marine Research?

“It looks like the dregs, to be honest”, says Arne Duinker when he sees the bag of tiny Mueller’s pearlside and krill.

He and four of his fellow scientists from the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) are at the restaurant Lysverket to taste a catch harvested 500 metres below the surface in Bjørnafjorden.

“It smells a bit odd”, says Duinker as the bag is opened and the half-frozen lump of small fish and krill slides out onto the metal tray.

“It smells of herring fat”, remarks Christopher Haatuft, the head chef at Lysverket, who is responsible for preparing the unusual catch.

It’s not a big fish, but maybe it tastes good? (Photo: Erlend A. Lorentzen / Institute of Marine Research)

10 billion tonnes

Fish that live at depths of between 200 and 1,000 metres are referred to as mesopelagic, and they represent a largely unexploited resource. There are more than 10 billion tonnes of these species in the world, according to the most optimistic estimates. In other words, 100 times the annual global fish catch. In addition, there are many species of plankton, which may be just as abundant as the fish.

“The interesting thing is that these organisms are relatively evenly spread out around the world, unlike normal fisheries”, says Webjørn Melle, a researcher at the IMR who has been studying mesopelagic fish for many years.

Many decades ago, quite a lot of research was done into these species, but it is really in the past three or four years that scientists have put the spotlight back on the creatures that live between 200 and 1,000 metres below the surface. This renewed interest reflects their potential use as a new source for animal feed or even food for the world’s growing population.

But what do these creatures taste like? We don’t know, because no-one has tasted them. Until now.

Arne Duinker, Marian Kjellevold, Webjørn Melle and Martin Wiech went to Lysverket restaurant so celebrity chef Christopher Haatuft could prepare their mesopelagic species: Mueller’s pearlside and krill. (Photo: Erlend A. Lorentzen / Institute of Marine Research)

“Wow, wow, wow!”

At the restaurant in Bergen, Haatuft grabs a handful of fish and krill and throws it into a hot, dry pan. After being fried for a short time, they are ready to be tested. The marine scientists Arne Duinker, Marian Kjellevold, Martin Wiech, Webjørn Melle and Espen Strand will be the first people to taste Mueller’s pearlside and krill.

“Wow, wow, wow! Wonderful”, exclaims Duinker, gesticulating with his arms.

“Delicious”, confirms Kjellevold.

“This makes me incredibly happy. I was prepared for the worst”, says Duinker.

Haatuft grabs a handful of Mueller’s pearlside and krill and dips them in a bowl of flour, before throwing them into hot oil.

“I could perfectly well serve this at the restaurant”, says the chef, as he munches on this deep-fried mesopelagic snack.

Mesopelagic fish – a delicacy? (Photo: Erlend A. Lorentzen / Institute of Marine Research)

Can cause diarrhoea

Webjørn Melle, who went on the research mission that caught the mesopelagic “tasters” in Bjørnafjorden, also thought they tasted good.

“I was there when we caught a few hundred kilos of these organisms, but I never thought that I would actually eat them. They tasted really good, though”, he says, before quickly adding:

“The krill were best.”

Before the raw ingredients reached the restaurant, the researchers had analysed them for environmental toxins and other unwanted substances, which there were few of. “These species are also rich in important nutrients like marine omega-3 fatty acids, but a lot of research remains to be done before they can be sold as food”, says Duinker.

“We shouldn’t eat too much Mueller’s pearlside. That’s because in large quantities it can have a laxative effect”, he says.

 

Contact

Arne Duinker

Forsker (PhD)
99114951

Mesopelagic fish

  • Mesopelagic organisms live at depths of between 200 and 1,000 metres.
  • The most optimistic estimate suggests that there are more than 10 billion tonnes of mesopelagic fish in the world’s oceans.
  • In addition to fish, there are also large quantities of krill, jellyfish and cephalopods at these depths.
  • Epipelagic organisms live between the surface and a depth of 200 metres.
  • Organisms that live below 1,000 metres are known as bathypelagic.