Shellfish disaster threatens to ruin Christmas dinner


The high water temperature and the rains have caused the massive death of clams and cockles in Galicia

A shellfish harvester collects clams and cockles in Moa
A shellfish harvester collects clams and cockles in Moaa (Pontevedra).CARLOS GARCA POZO

Every Christmas, even the humblest tables include seafood on the menu. It is a tradition as deep-rooted as decorating the tree, playing the lottery or eating the 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve. And this year it could be in danger. At least, in relation to the clam and the cockle that comes from Galicia, two star resources on the menus of this time of year that in recent weeks have suffered a massive mortality that the sector places above 95% in the case of the cockle and 75% in the japanese clam. The situation is already dramatic for the 3,614 people with a permit to fish on foot on the Galician coast, who see the strongest season of the year threatened and fear a long-term impact that will put their way of life in check in the coming months.

Since the end of October, every day of shellfish harvesting it is common to see the shellfish harvesters coming out of the sea with tears in their eyes.because they see their future destroyed“. Faced with the productive crisis, some shellfish groups chose to stop extraction for days, but, when they returned, nothing had improved. Although the maximum quotas to be extracted by each shellfish harvester have been lowered, many days they are unable to collect them and abandon the beach exhausted the tide with the water already up to the waist and such minimal quantities of shell that many burst into tears. “That is anguish for a worker who really does not have anything to take home,” laments Maricarmen Vzquez, the main employer of the brotherhood of Lourizn (Pontevedra).

We have gotten here due to a concatenation of factors: high temperature of the water, the storms of recent months and the drops in the salinity of the rivers caused by the very heavy rains. The impact has been such that they see the situation as irreversible. The president of the Provincial Federation of Brotherhoods of Pontevedra and patron saint of Bueu, José Manuel Rosas, affirms forcefully: “They say that there is nothing darker than black, but I believe that yes, these situations are so delicate and complicated.” “The future is not black, it is worse.”

Mara del Carmen Besada, patron saint of O Grove (Pontevedra), cradle of seafood, explains that “the problem is serious everywhere“and he does not have good expectations for Christmas, a time in which historically, despite crises or inflation, “everyone buys seafood”, its “most important” moment of the year for which in his brotherhood they keep the best shellfish bank in the area to be able to export it and sell larger bivalve and at a better price. Prices usually rise and this year they hope that this will also happen, but the problem they face is that they will not have product with which to face that high demand.

Rosas explains to EL MUNDO that the sector is “low minimum“and not only thinking about the Christmas campaign, which they anticipate will be “very complicated”, but also looking ahead to 2024, “in January, in February, in March, in April… the January slope is going to need a ladder this year.” to raise it.” Each shellfishing area started from a different previous situation, but now none has been saved. Thus, in the Ra de Arousa they were already coming from a year marked by a “decline” in productivity while Pontevedra “was “The farms were the healthiest, with breeding and products of commercial size” and anticipated “a very good campaign.” The high mortality has shaken them equally, like the rest of Galicia, and they reach December without being able to collect the marked quotas.

Long-term “the sector is going to have a very difficult timehim,” predicts Rosas, who sees “dark clouds on the horizon” because not only the commercial-sized product has died, but also the entire crop and we will have to replant and wait for it to grow. Maricarmen Vázquez confirms that the situation is so ” “desperate” that she is no longer worried about losing the Christmas campaign but about the future of this entire extractive sector. She is not even thinking about the product reaching the market in December, but rather “all year 24.”

The sector has launched an SOS asking “to exceptional events, exceptional measures must be sought“and the Galician Government has taken up the gauntlet. The person responsible for the Sea in the Xunta de Galicia, Alfonso Villares, has already announced that they are working on the request to the State Government to declare the areas affected by this emergency as catastrophic areas.

This measure would allow the State to take charge of repairing the damages and would reach all those affected. “The fundamental thing is that no one is left out, and the most appropriate way to achieve this is this declaration,” explains Villares, who states that they are compiling all the necessary reports to send them to the Government: rainfall analysis and study of the salinity of the waters and the mortality of mollusks in each of the areas.

The solution lies in the declaration of a catastrophic area, but also in long-term actions. “The solution is that they help us and, above all, that they help us with seed to be able to restore the banks again,” asks María del Carmen Besada, who warns that “it is of no use to us if they solve us for two or three months by giving us momentary support, we want them to help us make a living from this.” Shellfish farming forms part of the Galician DNA, they want to continue living from it and that future involves greater planting planning and studies that allow establishing the most favorable times of the year and the species and varieties most resistant to episodes of low salinity like the current one.

Such low extraction has led to a general increase in the price of the product in the market, but skyrocketing the price is not a solution for the sector either, which now views the entry of foreign seafood with suspicion. “The cockle comes from Holland; the japanese clam, from France, from Italy, from Portugal; even now the fine clam comes from Morocco,” laments Maricarmen, who is remembering something that already happened after the Prestige crisis: “There is a product on the market that says it is Galician and it is not.“.

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