Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Dipping Kiacks

Locally sourced food doesn't get much more authentic -- or more local -- than this. Each spring along the shores of New England, Canada's Maritime Provinces, and the Great Lakes, a member of the herring family best known as Alewives make their way into their spawning streams from open water. Birds like gulls, cormorants, ospreys and herons take advantage of the buffet, and locals line the banks of the streams with dipnets to catch
a share of Nature's bounty. The fish are bony like most herring, but when smoked to soften the bones they're a great local delicacy. In southwestern Nova Scotia they're known as "kiacks", pronounced like "kayak". Years ago, no small community grocery or general store was without a wooden box of smoked kiacks being sold for a few cents each.

The kiacks arrive in early May, and the word goes out up and down the shore. These days, fishing times in each river are regulated, for periods ranging from a few hours to full days. Times are posted near the stream and are strictly enforced, so when there's no fishing the kiacks make their way upstream unimpeded. During the open hours, fishers line the banks with nets at the ready, dipping in just upstream of the rock they stand on and move it downstream with the water's flow, catching the small silvery fish as they head up-river to their spawning grounds. They're placed in tubs or crates for transport, and the best of them are set aside for salting and smoking. The rest will be used immediately for lobster bait or frozen for future use. The
spring lobster season will be in effect until the end of May so they'll definitely be put to good use -- no waste here!

Kiack season is a social event, too; there's plenty of time between runs of fish to visit, catch up with old friends, or talk about a wealth of riveting topics like politics or the weather. All to soon, the run will come to and end and the dipnets will be put away for another year. Right now though, for young and old, the riverbank is the place to take part in a tradition that's been kept alive in these parts since the first natives caught sight of the silver flash of fish in the stream.

1 comment:

  1. I do remember the salty smoked kiacks but never knew the story -- thanks for the info and the memoriesi evoked.