© WWF/Alfonso Rego
Spain is one of the world’s largest per capita markets for fish, so it is fitting that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF/Adena) has produced a handy pocket guide to sustainable seafood, which consumers can bring along to a fishmonger’s. In fact, it has produced three lists: a green list for fish that’s ‘safe’ to eat, amber for seafood that has environmental issues and a red list of species that are being over-fished and/or the fishing or farming of which causes serious environmental harm.
“The green list names species that fulfill two requirements,” Raul García Rodríguez of the WWF in Spain told Metropolitan. “The population of that species has to be above the safe biological limits, and the capture or farming of the species must not cause significant environmental damage—for example, the fishing techniques must not damage the seabed, nor result in any by-catch of other species.”
Such action is both long overdue and greatly needed in Spain, which is one of the main fish-consuming nations in the world. In this country we consume about 40 kilogrammes of fish per person per year. Furthermore, the local market favours the more expensive ‘trophy’ species: those higher up the food chain that are most in danger of over-exploitation, such as tuna, cod, swordfish, etc.
So what can you order at the peixeteria? Well, the main pointers to look for are species that are lower down the food chain, fast maturers (smaller when full grown), big schoolers and plentiful spawners. Also look for artisanal, small-scale, traditional fishing practices.
Less clear is the advisability of buying farmed fish. The debate over fish farming is still raging, even among environmental groups. “We are against unsustainable aquaculture and in favour of the forms that have the least impact,” said García Rodríguez. “Farming carnivorous fish has the greatest impact. For instance, salmon need to eat five kilos of wild fish to put on one kilo of weight. But there are forms of aquaculture, such as filter feeders [shellfish] and herbivorous fish, that can be sustainable. In the case of sturgeon, the species is in such a grave situation in the wild that farmed fish are the better choice. But in general terms we don’t see aquaculture as a solution to overfishing.”
THE GREEN LIST
Clams and cockles
Most of the clams and cockles you find in the market come cultivated from Galicia, where they are a traditional and vital source of income. As filter feeders, their cultivation has minimal impact.
There are various varieties. One of the most valued is: Carpet shell pullet/Cloïssa babosa (Catalan)/Almeja Babosa (Castilian). Normally a pale grey or cream shell, with concentric ridges and faint broad bands of colour up and down the shell. It has highly appreciated flesh, but it deteriorates more quickly than other clams. Another popular choice is the Grooved carpet shell/Cloïssa fina/Almeja fina. Its shell is distinguished by criss-crossing dark lines that form an almost dog-tooth pattern. It’s a longer-lasting clam that’s easier to market.
Atlantic herring/Areng de l’Atlàntic/Arenque del Atlántico
These are caught wild and are available from June to September. Perhaps this high spawning, high production fish is on the green list because there’s not a lot of demand for it. It can sometimes be found dried or smoked in the bacalao and mojama stalls in the markets.
Fresh Icelandic cod/Bacallà fresc d’Islàndia/Bacalao fresco de Islandia
Caught wild, its season runs from December to May. Only three percent of the cod sold in Catalunya is fresh; the rest is salt cod, the origins of which may be harder to trace.
Farmed sturgeon and its caviar/ Caviar or Esturió cultivat/Caviar or Esturión
The greenest way to eat this fish and its eggs is to buy the local Caviar Nacarii from Les in the Val d’Aran. It’s expensive, but hey, it’s caviar!
Distinguished by its spidery legs and compact knobbly red body, the spider crab is an ancient Mediterranean favourite. In his book, Mediterranean Seafood, Alan Davidson recommends buying a female (look for a wide flap on the underbelly) in January and February.
Available all year, usually either from Galicia or the Mediterranean, and mostly from farms, though wild mejillones de roca are sometimes available (usually covered in all sorts of other sealife). The Galician ones are generally larger, but some say the local Mediterranean ones are more tasty. There are no restrictions on this mollusk, so marinera away! They’re relatively rich in iron, too.
There are various variants of the razor clam, the long, cream-to-brown rectangular shelled clam with a white tubular interior. The common Spanish species are the Mediterranean mango de cuchillo de California and the Atlantic navaja europeo. They’re best cooked simply—a la plancha with rock salt, a drizzle of oil and a squeeze of lemon.
Velvet swimming crab/Nècora/Nécora
A smallish crab, no more than 10-centimetres wide, its rear legs are covered in fine hairs. It lives on the shores of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coast. The Gallegan necora is fished from July to December. Simply boil it for about 5 minutes, perhaps with a bay leaf or two, then crack it open and enjoy its sweet flesh.
There are two types of oyster on the market. Spain is the last major producer of the common flat, or European, oyster. These round, flat oysters have fallen out of favour with farmers because of problems with disease. This rarity has made them a delicacy for some. More commonly found are the elongated, concave Pacific oysters. In Spain, both types come from farms that are mostly in Galicia. With modern refrigeration they are available and safe to eat all year, but July and August is their breeding season, which affects their taste. Some like it, some don’t.
Those from the Mediterranean are smaller and generally caught by individuals setting pots. The more popular—and some say tastier—Atlantic octopus is trawled for by factory ships using nets in deep water. It is disappearing rapidly. Quiz your fishmonger about the manner in which the octopus was caught. Look for a vivid colour and shine to ensure freshness.
Some fish are on this list because they’re naturally sustainable, fast reproducers etc. Others like (I suspect) the gurnard, are on here because they’re not very popular, so stocks aren’t depleted...yet. Gurnards have a reputation for being bony. But they have tasty, sweet flesh and, considering they’re green-listed, are worth picking a few bones out of your teeth for. British seafood hero Rick Stein likes gurnard pan-fried in butter with a sage, garlic, lemon and butter sauce.
The trusty sardine is one of the species that’s here because it’s an early maturer and big spawner. But stocks tend to fluctuate so keep an eye on their levels. The fishing season is May to October and the minimum permitted size is 11 centimetres.
A farmed fish that’s on the recommended list. Many producers are looking at reducing the use of wild fish stocks for feed, replacing them with synthetic and plant-based feed. This would go some way to combatting some of the problems with fish farming, but there are still questions of environmental contamination and disease.
Sustainable seafood on the Net
Download WWF’s sustainable seafood consumption guide at http://tinyurl.com/265pnq. Scroll down to the link to the WWF-Spain pdf (choose from Spanish or Catalan).
To keep up to date with the WWF’s marine conservation campaigns see http://tinyurl.com/2naq2o.
The Marine Stewardship Council is the main internationally supported certifier for sustainable seafood. Check out their list of certified seafood on their site www.msc.org.
There are no certified Spanish fisheries as yet, though there are rumours that certifications may be announced this year. One potential candidate is the Lira-Carnota fishery in Galicia. You can buy its products direct from www.lonxanet.com.