Bounty of bar­na­cles

In Spain, bar­na­cle-pick­ers risk their lives to net a christ­mas treat.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By GABRIEL RU­BIO

PERCHED on a slip­pery rock off Spain’s rough north-west coast, Nando keeps one eye on the break­ing waves and one on his prey: goose bar­na­cles, a prized Christ­mas del­i­cacy.

Din­ers pay hand­somely to taste the io­dine-tinged flesh of the grey-brown stalks that hold th­ese crus­taceans to the rocks, topped by white fin­ger­nail-shaped shells.

But get­ting hold of them here in the cold At­lantic shal­lows of the Costa de la Vela is no treat.

“The dan­ger is not so much the sea, as the jump­ing onto the rocks,” says Nando – full name Fer­nando Marino – a big, vig­or­ous man of 41 with pep­per-and-salt hair.

He has been pick­ing the bar­na­cles for 19 years, dressed in a wet­suit with a small net tied to his waist to hold his catch – one of 65 lo­cals from the nearby town of Can­gas li­censed to do so.

He leaps from a dinghy at the foot of the cliffs as the tide goes out, leav­ing the rocks wave-lapped but ex­posed enough to reach the bar­na­cles.

The skill of the good picker, he says, is in quickly iden­ti­fy­ing the big­gest and best bar­na­cles on the spot.

“As soon as the tide starts com­ing in, it is very dan­ger­ous.”

Work­ing against the clock in the two hours be­fore the tide turns, he and other pick­ers slice the bar­na­cles from the rocks with a wooden-han­dled, flat-bladed tool called a raspa.

“You have to keep an eye out for ev­ery­thing – the sea, your com­pan­ions, in case any­one falls,” says Mar­cos Golvanes, 27, who steers the dinghy.

None of the pick­ers can for­get the story of Dec 13 last year, when a woman pick­ing bar­na­cles died af­ter fall­ing into the sea off the nearby town of Oia.

“We have had the odd scare here when the sea has been rough,” says Monica Gon­za­lez, the Can­gas pick­ing team’s watch­man, who stays in the boat. “But we have been lucky.”

Wait­ing in the boat, Gon­za­lez weighs the catch, check­ing it does not pass the le­gal quota: 5kg per per­son, per out­ing, in the run-up to Christ­mas and 4kg the rest of the year.

Back on land, she takes the catch to the fish mar­ket at Can­gas har­bour where whole­salers ex­am­ine the bar­na­cles be­fore bid­ding for them.

“Be­tween now and Christ­mas, peo­ple will pay up to three times more than nor­mal,” says David Fer­nan­dez, leader of the lo­cal fish­er­men’s guild.

“Last De­cem­ber they sold for as much as €162 (RM715) per kilo,” Fer­nan­dez says.

The guild last year sold 17.5 tonnes of goose bar­na­cles worth nearly €688,000 (RM3.03mil) – a valu­able as­set for this com­mu­nity in the re­ces­sion-hit re­gion of Gali­cia.

The fi­nal re­tail price in some cases was more than dou­ble the whole­sale price paid to the pick­ers.

Prices have gone down in the re­cent years of re­ces­sion in Spain.

“I would say de­mand has fallen by half in the past three or four years,” says Fer­nan­dez.

On this oc­ca­sion, in the cru­cial pe­riod a month be­fore Christ­mas, the bar­na­cles caught by Nando and his com­pan­ions fetched be­tween €26 and €40 (RM114 and RM176) – a frac­tion of the price likely to be paid by the peo­ple who eat them.

“The sale wasn’t a good one,” Nando says.

On the rocks, the pick­ers call out to each other to warn of dan­ger­ous waves and se­cure them­selves with ropes to pick in the hard­est-to-reach spots.

The goose bar­na­cles, Gon­za­lez says, thrive where the waves beat deep­est and hard­est.

“The more dan­ger­ous the spot is, the bet­ter the bar­na­cles you find there.” — AFP

The their boat

Pre­par­ing

Pick­ers will be­lay them­selves to the steeper rocks to get at the bar­na­cles.

The pick­ers have to risk a dan­ger­ous jump from the boat onto slip­pery

rocks to pick the bar­na­cles.

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