West Virginia University in Vendée, France

The catch of the day...
June 11, 1998

Today we're up with the early risers.  With special permission we have been authorized to visit the inner workings of the fishing port of Les Sables.  Access to this site is closely controled by French and European authorities charged with assuring the safety of the food supply.  Here, the WVU-Vendéens look on as the "criée", the auction of the night's catch, takes place.  Having grown up in South Georgia, this climate reminds me much of the tabacco sales I remember from my childhood. There is something universal about the song of the auctioneer.

Below, the Vendéens examine the lobsters brought in this morning.  On the coast of France, almost all of today's catch will be consumed fresh before the day is out.

Here, our guide Jacqueline holds up an "aiglefin", a highly appreciated fish known to us as the "haddock".

Below, we see the difference between the lowly lobster on the right and the delicious "langoustes" on the left.

Not one of the most sought after food fishes, the shark below will be dressed and labeled "veau de mer" ("sea calf") when it is sold on the city market.


After identifying dozens of species inside the market, we board the Mariluce, a "chalutier" or trawler headed this evening for a fortnight in the north Atlantic.  The crew hopes to return to Les Sables with 10 tons of fish and 4 tons of crustaceans.


The captain of the Mariluce invites Jacqueline to lead the Vendéens on a full tour of the ship.


Kate Wright says the sleeping quarters, though tight, may not be so uncomfortable after all.


The engine room, on the other hand, is not a restful place for those sensitive to loud noises.


After a break for lunch, the WVU-Vendéens board a much smaller boat for a tour of the "routes des salines", the road of the saltmakers.


Here, we head up the inland waterway toward the "marais", the manmade swamps dating back to the times when the Romans ruled this land and its sea.

The "marais" were designed to control the depth and temperature of the salt waters in order to exploit their fullest potential.  Below is a pool designed for growing fish, especially the "civelle", a small eel that is considered a delicacy in this region.


From the time of the Romans up until very recently salt was one of man's most precious commodities.  Its primary function was to allow the preservation of food over long periods of time.   Fishermen and landlovers alike could easily have starved in winter without the food salt allowed them to keep.  Precious services were often recompensed with this substance, which was in a way more precious than gold -- thus, the origin of our work "salary".  Below, the heart of Vendée is formed in the giant clay "saline", and elaborate system of large clay reservoirs designed to use evaporation and waterflow to capture the salt in the sea water brought here through the marais.

The "salicorne", a greatly appreciated plant that grows in high-salt areas, is often processed and served like a delicate pickled cucumber.  Raw, the plant reminds me a bit of a tender, juicy, and salty form of goat sorel.  Our guide jokes about the plants other reputed properties, calling it the "saltmaker's Viagra".

Here, Cristy Vogel takes one last look at the "salorge" or salt house where the salt is stored before being taken to market.  We're soon back on the bus for the five-minute ride back to downtown in Les Sables.

Stay tuned to WVU-V!

Go on to June 12, 1998.