• Spain's news in English
Ancient technique still nets world’s best tuna
Fishermen lay a network of nets to trap big bluefin tuna. Photo: AFP

Ancient technique still nets world’s best tuna

AFP · 31 May 2015, 09:34

Published: 31 May 2015 09:34 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Silence falls as the fishermen on board their orange and blue boats stop calling out to each other and switch their engines off, to examine the surface of the water.

Four divers jump in. Their mission is to alert the boat crews when the 200-kilo (440-pound) bluefin tuna swim into the nets.

The fishermen wait to trap their prey in an "almadraba", a system of nets stretched across the water off a beach in Zahara de los Atunes, on the southern tip of Spain.

The tiny resort is named after the tuna that have been caught here in this stretch of water since the Phoenicians ruled the Mediterranean from around 1200 BC.

The tradition survives, despite the threat from overfishing by industrial trawlers.

Each year, bluefin tuna swim through the strait from the bitter cold of the Atlantic into the warmer Mediterranean to lay their eggs.

Fishermen lay the almadraba to create a submarine system of chambers that trap the biggest of the migrant fish.

Bloody yet sustainable

At last a diver pulls at the rope and cries out: "Haul it up!"

With pulleys they draw the tight mesh up to the surface of the waves, the silver-red scales of dozens of giant tuna fish glittering in the sunshine.

Several men jump into the nets and kill the fish with knives, turning the blue waves red.

"We bleed the tuna to stop them suffering and to get the best quality possible," said Rafael Marquez, a 45-year-old almadraba fisherman.

If the fish feel fear, he says, "they give off a substance that spoils the flesh".

This fish bloodbath has prompted shock and criticism, but the Almadraba Producers' and Fishermen's Organisation insists the tradition respects the environment.

"We were the ones who raised the alarm, along with the environmentalists" in the early 2000s about the harm done to tuna stocks by mass trawling, said Marta Crespo, the organisation's deputy leader.

"If the fishing were done only using almadraba, there would as much tuna in the sea as sand on the beach."

The Spanish biologists' and naturalists' association Hombre y Territorio says it considers the almadraba a form of "sustainable fishing".

"Its 3,000-year history shows that the almadraba is sustainable," said Crespo. "It is the most ancient fishing art in the West."

An international plan launched in 2006 has saved the bluefin tuna from overfishing for the time being and stocks have recovered, she said.

That led countries to raise quotas for fishing in the Mediterranean and Atlantic this year for the first time since 2007, to about 16,000 tonnes – of which 700 tonnes are for the almadrabas.

‘Cream of the ocean’

At the Frialba factory on the waterfront in Barbate, a dozen employees await, armed with hooks and knives as the boats come back with 60 tonnes of tuna on board.

With swift strokes they slice off a tuna's head and tail and part it into four huge fillets of deep red, for storing at minus 60 degrees Celsius.

Japanese buyers run from one fish to another, choosing the fillets they want to send back home.

Story continues below…

Bluefin tuna from the almadrabas is "number one in the world for quality", says Hori Mi-Zu Yosuke, director of the Japanese tuna company Sirius Ocean.

In the 1980s more than 90 percent of the tuna caught by the three fishing companies in the organisation was sold in Japan.

But now young local companies are selling a bigger share -- some 30 percent of the catch -- in Spain itself.

"Tuna is everything to us, to this area. It creates lots of jobs," said Andres Jordan, head of one such company, Gadira. "It is the cream of the ocean."

The wholesale price is about 12 to 14 euros a kilogram (about $7.00 a pound) but the retail customer will pay up to 45 euros per kilo for the prized tuna belly.

When salted and dried, it retails for up to 100 euros ($110) a kilogram.

Slicing in the Frialbad factory gives Jesus Cota, 38, an appetite. After work he orders a serving, straight up in the Japanese style.

"I love fresh raw tuna," he says. "It is red gold."

For more news from Spain, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Spain's 'Napflix' aims to bore viewers to sleep
Photo: Screengrab/ Napflix

A Spanish video platform called Napflix, designed to put people to sleep with dull content, was launched this week and its founders are on the lookout for more "monotony and repetition."

Recipe: How to make fabada - traditional Asturian bean stew
Photo: Flavio Lorenzo Sánchez/Flickr

The hearty Asturian dish is a perfect lunch on a cold day... and don't forget the crusty bread and cider!

Brit 'paedo' held on Costa del Sol after Most Wanted appeal

One of Britain's most wanted fugitives was arrested on the Costa Del Sol following a tip-off from an expat just hours after his face appeared on a public appeal.

Spain's parliament approves deficit reduction measures
Photo: Images Money/Flickr

Spanish lawmakers approved on Thursday measures to reduce the public deficit and keep it under the target agreed with the European Union.

'Cubism and War' show opens at Barcelona Picasso Museum
Pablo Picasso Harlequin and Woman with a Necklace. Photo: MP

Barcelona's Picasso Museum unveiled an exhibition on "Cubism and War" on Thursday depicting how one of the most influential artistic styles of the 20th century survived the First World War.

Why this bionic limb pioneer doesn't believe in disability
Hugh Herr has been award Spain's top science prize. Photo: FPA

The Local speaks to Hugh Herr on winning Spain's top science prize and how being an amputee doesn't make him disabled.

Dine in the buff at Spain's first nudist restaurant
A buffet of organic food will be served on "human tables". Photo: Innato / Facebook

Spain's first naked dining experience is to arrive on the island of Tenerife following the success of a similar venture in London.

Spain's top court overturns bullfighting ban in Catalonia
Photo: AFP

Spain's Constitutional Court on Thursday cancelled a bullfighting ban in Catalonia in what is likely to exacerbate tensions between Madrid and the separatist region, and between animal activists and fans of the tradition.

Out of the dark: Five years on from Eta ceasefire
Eta members made a ceasefire declaration in January, 2011. Photo: Gara / AFP

Five years after armed separatist group Eta declared a permanent ceasefire, Basque journalist Alberto Letona is still wondering when the dialogue will begin.

Hunt for ten most wanted Brit fugitives hiding out in Spain
Call Crimestoppers if you recognize these faces.

These fugitives from British justice are thought to be hiding out in Spain. Do you recognize anyone?

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Madrid parish church faces fine over 'too noisy' bells
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Celebrate expat life at Madrid’s THRIVE convention
Fury after kids told to bring their own loo roll to school
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Disney announces plans for Don Quixote action movie
Activist tells 8-yr-old matador wannabe with cancer 'just die'
King to make last minute push to avoid third vote in Spain
Amazing photos of Catalonia's 'human tower' contest
What's on in Spain: October 2016
'No way, Jose! You'll never get your hands on our Rock'
Recipe: How to make a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas
Chorizo in paella? Go back to cooking school Jamie Oliver
Spain in eye of a perfect storm after 10 months without govt
Thousands share clips of life for 'Spain in a Day' film
Ten incredible Spain locations for Game of Thrones season 7
Analysis & Opinion
Why moving to Spain could be the best decision of your life
Seven reasons why autumn is the very best season in Spain
Spanish study finds four types of personality. Which are you?
New search underway for civil war grave of poet Lorca
Bison found decapitated on Valencia nature reserve
Forgotten Voices: What Brits in Spain think about Brexit
One dead and 14 injured in blast at Spanish resort
Game of Thrones want extras 'with muscles' to film in Spain
Thousands march in Madrid to push for bullfighting ban
jobs available