SHARE
COPY LINK

CLIMATE CRISIS

How heatwaves have battered Spain’s mussel harvests

"There's nothing left here," sighs Javier Franch as he shakes the heavy rope of mussels he's just pulled to the surface in northeastern Spain. They are all dead.

How heatwaves have battered Spain's mussel harvests
With the country hit by a long and brutal heatwave this summer, the water temperature in the Ebro Delta, the main shellfish production area of the Spanish Mediterranean, is touching 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). And any grower who hasn't removed their molluscs in time will have lost everything. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

With the country hit by a long and brutal heatwave this summer, the water temperature in the Ebro Delta, the main mussels production area of the Spanish Mediterranean, is touching 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

And any grower who hasn’t removed their molluscs in time will have lost everything.

But that’s not the worst of it: most of next year’s crop has also died in one of the most intense marine heatwaves in the Spanish Mediterranean.

By the end of July, experts said the western Mediterranean was experiencing an “exceptional” marine heatwave, with persistently hotter-than-normal temperatures posing a threat to the entire marine ecosystem.

“The high temperatures have cut short the season,” says Franch, 46, who has spent almost three decades working for the firm founded by his father, which has seen production fall by a quarter this year.

The relentless sun has heated up the mix of fresh and saltwater along Catalonia’s delicate coastal wetlands where the River Ebro flows into the Mediterranean.

On a scorching summer morning in Deltebre, one of the municipalities of the Delta, the mussel rafts — long wooden structures with ropes attached which can each grow up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of mussels — should be teeming with workers hurrying around during the busy season.

But there is hardly any movement.

“We lost the yield that was left, which wasn’t much, because we were working to get ahead so we wouldn’t go through this,” explains Carles Fernandez, who advises the Ebro Delta’s Federation of Mollusc Producers (Fepromodel).

“But the problem is that we’ve lost the young stock for next year and we’ll have quite a high cost overrun.”

Fishermen extract Pacific oysters bunches in a farm structure on the open sea off the coast near Deltebre, south of Tarragona, on August 10th, 2022. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

Millions in losses

The heat has wiped out 150 tonnes of commercial mussels and 1,000 tonnes of young stock in the Delta, initial estimates suggest.

And producers are calculating their losses at over one million euros ($1,000,000) given they will now have to buy young molluscs from Italy or Greece for next year.

“When you have a week when temperatures are higher than 28C, there can be some mortality, but this summer it has lasted almost a month and a half,” with peak temperatures of almost 31C, says Fepromodel head Gerardo Bonet.

Normally, the Ebro Delta’s two bays produce around 3,500 tonnes of mussels, and 800 tonnes of oysters, making Catalonia Spain’s second-largest producer, although it remains far behind the output of Galicia, the northwestern region on the colder Atlantic coast.

For years now, the harvest in the Delta has been brought forward, cutting short a season that once ran from April to August.

‘Tropical’ Mediterranean

Hit by coastal erosion and a lack of sediment supply, the rich ecosystem of the Ebro Delta — a biosphere reserve and one of the most important wetlands of the western Mediterranean — is particularly vulnerable to climate change.

And this extreme summer, when Spain endured 42 days of heatwave — a record three times the average over the past decade, the AEMET national forecaster says — has also left its mark below the surface of the water.

“Some marine populations which are unable to cope with temperatures as high as these over a long period of time are going to suffer what we call mass mortality,” says marine biologist Emma Cebrian of the Spanish National Research Council (CISC).

Spanish Mediterranean mussel producer Javier Franch shows dead Mediterranean mussel seeds in a farm structure on the open sea off the coast near Deltebre, south of Tarragona. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

“Imagine a forest, it’s like 60 or 80 percent of the trees dying, with the resulting impact on its associated biodiversity,” she says.

The succession of heatwaves on land has generated another at sea which — pending analysis of all the data in November — may turn out to be “the worst” in this area of the Mediterranean since records began in the 1980s.

Although marine heatwaves are not a new phenomenon, they are becoming more extreme with increasingly dire consequences.

“If we compare it with a wildfire, one can have an impact, but if you keep having them, it will probably mean the affected populations are not able to recuperate,” Cebrian said.

Experts say the Mediterranean is becoming “tropicalised”, and mollusc grower Franch is struck by the mounting evidence as his boat glides between empty mussel rafts in a bay without a breath of wind.

He is mulling an increase in his production of oysters, which are more resistant to high temperatures, but which currently represent just 10 percent of his output.

But he hopes it will help ensure his future in a sector that employs 800 people directly or indirectly in the Ebro Delta.

“(The sector) is under threat because climate change is a reality and what we are seeing now will happen again,” he says worriedly.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

FOOD & DRINK

The best vegan and vegetarian Spanish dishes

These are two words that don’t often go together – vegetarian and Spanish, as most vegetarians and vegans will only know too well, however, it may come as a surprise to discover that there are a few Spanish dishes that naturally do not contain any meat or fish.

The best vegan and vegetarian Spanish dishes

Whether you live in Spain or you frequently travel here, if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan you’ll know that finding traditional Spanish dishes can be tricky. But if you don’t want to have to eat international food all the time, you will discover that there are several meat and fish-free dishes that are Spanish classics. 

Espinacas con garbanzos

A dish traditionally found in southern Spain in Andalusia, this is essentially exactly how it’s translated – spinach with chickpeas. The dish has a long history dating all the way back to the Moors, who ruled southern Spain for almost 800 years. Completely vegan, the spinach and chickpeas are made into a type of stew with herbs and spices like paprika and cumin. Often pine nuts and raisins are added to the mix too.

READ ALSO: What did the Moors ever do for us?’ How Spain was shaped by Muslim rule

Spinach and chickpeas is a classic Andalusian dish. Photo: Xemenendura / Wikimedia Commons
 

Escalivada

A classic vegan dish from Catalonia, escalivada is a mix of slow-roasted vegetables, usually onions, peppers and aubergines. It can be eaten as a type of topping for large toasts called torradas and can sometimes have goat’s cheese melted on the top.

Calçots with romesco sauce

Another much-loved Catalan vegetarian dish is calçots with romesco sauce. Calçots are like a cross between a spring onion and a leek and are only available in the winter or early spring seasons. They’re typically grilled over an open fire until blackened. You must then remove the burnt exterior with a pair of gloves before dipping them in the romesco sauce. The sauce is a concoction made from toasted almonds and hazelnuts, tomatoes, garlic, toasted bread, olive oil, vinegar and dried ñora peppers. They can be a bit messy to eat, so restaurants will often give you a bib to wear too. 

READ ALSO – Recipe: How to make, eat and enjoy calçots

Try some calçots at a traditional calçotada. Photo: Esme Fox
 

Gazpacho

A dish that many are familiar with, this cold soup is traditionally from Andalusia, although it’s likely you’ll find it all over Spain in the summertime. It’s made from blended tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, bread, olive oil and garlic. 

Gazpacho is a cold tomato soup. Photo: Ирина Кудрявцева / Pixabay

Paella de verduras

Ordering paella in Spain can be tricky for vegans and vegetarians because the most traditional either contain seafood or rabbit, chicken snails and butter beans, like the ones from Valencia. Many places, however, now offer a paella de verduras, featuring only vegetables. Restaurants will use whatever is in season, whether that’s artichokes, green beans, peppers, asparagus, mushrooms or courgettes. The only difficult part is that many places will only do paellas for two or more people, so you have to hope your companions are willing to eat the vegan version too. 

A vegetable paella is completely vegan. Photo: Corophoto / Pixabay
 

Berenjenas con miel

This simple tapas dish translates as aubergines with honey and is essentially deep-fried aubergines usually dipped in bread crumbs or battered and then drizzled with molasses or treacle which is actually miel de caña, not the type of honey from bees. Although you can find it in many places in Spain, it’s typically from Andalusia and is very popular in Granada and surrounding areas.

A plate of berenjenas con miel is always a veggie favourite. Photo: Esme Fox
 

Patatas a lo pobre

Poor man’s potatoes might not sound very appetising, but this dish of fried sliced potatoes with onions, peppers and garlic is actually delicious. Again you’ll find it mostly in Andalusia, particularly in the Alpujarras mountains, just south of Granada.

Try some patatas a lo pobre in the Alpujarras. Photo: pxhere

Pisto

Similar to the French ratatouille, pisto is a stew made from cubes of aubergines, onions, peppers, courgettes and tomatoes. It comes from the region of Castilla-La Mancha and is often served with a fried egg on top. To make it vegan, simply ask for it without the egg.

Pisto is similar to the French ratatouille but is often served with an egg. Photo: Arnaud 25 / WikiCommons
 

Ajo blanco

This white garlic soup is a tasty combination of almonds, garlic, olive oil, bread and white wine or sherry vinegar. It comes from the areas around Málaga and Cádiz and like gazpacho is served cold. It’s sometimes served topped with grapes too. 

Ajo blanco is often served with grapes. Photo: cyclonebill / WikiCommons

Croquetas de boletus, ceps or espinacas

Croquetas are a favourite tapas dish throughout the country, and while many of them are filled with jamón (ham) or even squid ink, there are several vegetarian varieties too. Unfortunately, they are not vegan because they’re made with bechamel sauce, which contains dairy. The bechamel is mixed with various flavours and then covered in breadcrumbs before being deep-fried. Vegetarian varieties come in varieties such as boletus or ceps (types of mushrooms), espinacas (spinach) or cabrales cheese – a blue cheese from Asturias. 

READ ALSO – MAP: How well do you know your Spanish cheeses?

Try croquetas filled with spinach, mushrooms or cheese. Photo: Ralf Gervink / Pixabay

Salmorejo

Salmorejo is a cold soup similar to gazpacho, but it’s much thicker and creamier. It’s typically made from just four main ingredients – tomatoes, bread, olive oil and garlic. You can find it all over Andalusia, but it’s actually from Córdoba. Often it’s topped with ham and boiled egg, so simply ask for it sin jamón y huevo for it to be vegan. 

Ask for your salmorejo sin jamón for it to be vegetarian. Photo:Javier Lastras / Wikimedia Commons

Tortilla de patatas

One of the two only non-vegan dishes on our list is the classic tortilla de patatas, which you can find all over Spain and is definitely a meal you can rely on if all else fails. It is of course made from eggs and potatoes, but Spain is very divided on whether you should add onions or not. The Local is firmly on the onion side! 

Do you like your tortilla with or without onion? Photo: Luis MGB / Pixabay
SHOW COMMENTS