Spanish Culinary Traditions Threaten a Favorite Fish

boquerones fritos fried anchovies spain photo

Boquerones fritos. Photo: Javier Lastra / Creative Commons.

While returning to more traditional ways of eating is often heralded as a greener, healthier step in our super-sized, fast-food-ized culture, some long-held culinary traditions in fact pose a threat to iconic species. In Istanbul, environmentalists are campaigning to increase the minimum catch size for lüfer (bluefish), which are too often caught and eaten as juvenile fish. And now it seems a similar practice is also putting a Spanish seafood favorite at risk.Small fried fish such as boquerón (a type of anchovy), jurel (scad), and "little salmon" are a popular dish in the southern Spanish city of Málaga, where the practice of catching young fish before they can reproduce has depleted the area's fishing grounds, environmental news platform Tierramérica reports via IPS News.

Though the European Union has set legal minimum catch sizes, and awareness is growing about the problem, immature fish continue to be sold and eaten.

Banned Fish Caught, Sold Illegally
"The boquerón is losing the fight in the Mediterranean" due to local culinary traditions, Juan Antonio López, head of marine resources for the Classroom of the Sea Environmental Education Center, told Tierramérica. The government reports that 2,169 kilograms of immature fish and shellfish have been confiscated so far this year.

Compounding the effects of diners' continued desire to eat what they've always eaten, economic woes have driven more people previously employed in other jobs to fishing. One popular banned fish still being caught is chanquete, or transparent goby, Tierramérica reports:

Though less than before, there is still fishing for chanquete in the middle of the night, according to Guadalupe Cerdón, who has run a fish stand in Málaga's Central Market for the last 15 years. She said the banned fish is sold in sacks on backstreets despite the threat of heavy fines.

Another vendor at the market told Tierramérica, "You make money with chanquete. Because of the economic crisis, many who lost their construction jobs are fishing." He said a kilo of this fish could fetch about 20 euros ($27).

Many people are reluctant to change their habits. "I would not remove boquerón from my menu. It is typical of Málaga and the customers demand it," said restaurant owner Jorge García. But environmental consciousness is growing. Fish2fork, a website that has helped urge restaurants in other countries to take threatened fish off their menus, is set to launch an online version of its guide for Spain, where it will evaluate 75 restaurants based on the fish they serve -- an incentive for both chefs and diners to give the tiny boquerón a little breathing room.

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