Cantabrian Anchovy: From the Sea to Your Table
As is already well known, the world is currently weathering through a very delicate moment. The Coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic is affecting each and every sphere of our societies, putting the economic, social and political sectors of each of our countries to the test. A major consequence of this alarming situation is that it is having a negative effect on what we are able to bring to our tables, especially in societies, such as the Basque one, that are so accustomed to consuming seasonal products.
Unfortunately, the effects of Covid-19 have begun to take a toll on the Basque fishing sector. Just this week, fishermen decided to suspend the Cantabrian anchovy campaign for the following three weeks. So, if you are one of those people who delights in consuming them, take this opportunity to learn a bit more about this precious product.
In the Basque Country, we have a predilection for seasonal products, and the anchovy is one of those products that we only consume fresh during its season. Although we associate the anchovy as being a spring season product, it is possible to catch the anchovy starting from the 1st of March. The permits for its capture go from March to June (both inclusive), but to protect the species, strict fishing limits or capture quotas are established each season. This means that if the whole fishing fleet has reached the fishing quota before June, it is not possible to continue catching anchovies. For the past several years, the fishing quota has been topped by May.
The entire fleet of seine fishing boats in the Bay of Biscay shares the custom of going out to fish on Mondays at 9 a.m. Fishing before that time or during the weekends is not allowed. Once at sea, Basque fishermen employ the Danish seine fishing method in the capture of the anchovy. This method is one of the most respectful ones with the species, as long as fishermen capture anchovies of the permitted size. In addition to this, the entire fleet of the Basque Country has the MSC certification, which indicates that the anchovy has been caught according to internationally established sustainability standards.
Once the boat chambers are full with anchovies, the boats return to the mainland to sell their catches in the different ports of the Basque Country. At the wholesale fish markets, the buyers will focus on certain characteristics of the fish versus others, depending on what for they intend to use the Cantabrian anchovy. If it is to be sold fresh, buyers will focus on freshness and smoothness, and its size will matter less in this case. If, on the other hand, the intention is to preserve the anchovies, larger sizes of the fish take precedence over quality. This is why the capture of anchovies that are intended for canning are left for the months of April and May, as they tend to be larger and fleshier in the later months of the season.
Transport plays a very important role in the quality and freshness of the anchovy, and the time that elapses from when it is caught to when it is sold at the shops is, generally, less than 24 hours. For this reason, as soon as the anchovy is auctioned at the wholesale fish market, it is packed in boxes with water and ice at a temperature of between 0 and 2 degrees Celsius (32 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit), after which they are distributed in refrigerated trucks that are required to maintain the same temperature, thus guaranteeing the quality and freshness of our Cantabrian anchovy.
During this difficult period of hardship and uncertainty, we must not fail to appreciate that behind this product that we so greatly value, as well as behind many other products and services that we sometimes take for granted, there is a significant human sector that is suffering the consequences. With this post, we want to honor a part of that effort and labor.