Fishing for Shiners by the Lot on the Bay
There’s a little parking lot off Cross Bay Boulevard, just south of Howard Beach, that abuts Jamaica Bay. People park there and watch the planes take off and land at Kennedy International Airport. Others barbecue or play cricket. Many Hindus hold services there and, on Sundays, pray on the beach and toss offerings into the water.
I was driving home from Rockaway Beach recently when I saw people in brightly colored robes dragging a long net for fish, along the shoreline just off the parking lot. I stopped to talk to them, and they said they were Bengali Muslim immigrants living in the Ozone Park section of Queens. They said they often came down to Jamaica Bay to net the small shiny fish they used to eat in India.
I looked in their nets and was surprised to see that these were the silvery little fish we used to use as children for bait when we went fishing. We called them spearing, or shiners, and would probably only try eating them on some bet or dare, if the stakes were high enough.
One of the Bengalis, Muniral Islam, said they loved a meal of stir-fried spearing, made with curry and other spices and served with rice. He said it reminded them of home in India.
I began videotaping them fishing and sorting the spearing from the kelp also dragged up in the net. The women looked remarkable walking in knee-deep water in their traditional long robes and sandals and head scarves. They would not speak on camera but gleefully heckled the men as the men spoke, especially as a younger man named Kamrul Roxy gave a discourse on how to prepare the fish.
After meeting them, I was in a market in Flushing, Queens, and saw spearing being sold next to snails and blue claw crabs. I then went to Bengali sections of Astoria and Flushing, both in Queens, and saw that spearing was a popular item in the frozen food sections of many Bengali groceries.
Mr. Islam said there was nothing like eating the spearing fresh, right after catching it.
“We like it,” he said. “This is, like, you know, our culture.”
By Corey Kilgannon
New York Times