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Fishing for a village, a disappearing trade

By Stephen Shemella Photo James Rexroad

A team of skilled boatmen together with the proper knowledge and a modest fleet can still work the waters off their local coast for a successful day fishing. That catch, with the help of a streamline marketplace, can be shared daily within a community to provide the ultimate resource of quality: local fish, minimally handled, right off the boat. This sounds easy enough, but there is more to the term ‘quality’ than just the edible portion of that tasty filet your favorite restaurant has on the menu. The details lie in the process: how it was caught, who caught it, when, and most importantly, why. It is this detail that separates fish caught to feed the ever growing capital based industrial system, and fish caught to feed one’s neighbors.

The call for a sustainable fish source in today’s villages is greater than ever. Consumers are offered an over-abundant supermarket selection that is packed with either fish raised on farms or fish caught using methods that are both harmful to the environment and exploit the fisherman. This industrialized approach not only fails to provide the valuable nutrients to the consumer, but equally if not more importantly, is destructive to our oceans, its inhabitants, and coastal communities globally. As seen throughout the developed world it is obvious how large scale lobbying has a more persuasive tone on government regulations than smaller oriented businesses. This strikes difficulty in the small fishing game, which struggles to adhere to the regulations that are constructed to defend the global market. Consequently, there are fewer young ambitious individuals willing to embark on such a difficult career path.

This resource of quality — providing the local catch each day to a village — isn’t that simple. Meeting with Rafel Llinares, we see how it takes a fisherman — dedicated to answering the call of the local product — to continue the tradition of the small scale. Personal involvement ensures that the health of both process and product is upheld while still providing the delicious catches of the day. Rafel spoke from a life of fishing and he knows where his trade is heading. As we chatted over coffee at one of the picturesque waterfront cafes of Cadaqués, his passion and interest for this work were sewn deep into his words. He spoke of the differences between then and now: less competition on land to sell his catch, less recreational boaters on the water and less destruction to the ecosystem not only provided more supply, but more ease.

Although he started working as a fisherman when the small scale was already starting to disappear, almost 30 years ago, he still offers his catch each day to Cadaqués – but not forever. The lack of interest from the upcoming generations that plagues his desire to pass down his unwritten knowledge encapsulates the success of the global system. At a glance his routine is simple: cast the nets in the evening and collect in the morning. After reeling in what the sea provides, he quickly chills his catch with nothing but sea water and ice, makes for land, and delivers the goods. Without a resurgence of interest from a younger crowd the end of the line is near; it takes not only desire but a true dedication to carry on the artisanal trade of fishing for one’s village, and unfortunately, this desire may not be enough anymore. Despite this, Rafel still sends out the call to all whom may hear. For anyone interested he offers the opportunity to join them on their daily trips, for whatever purpose the newcomer desires; a possible future fisherman; a father wanting to show his daughter the beautiful world that lies just off the coast; or maybe just a tourist looking for an authentic experience. One thing is for sure – the time is now.

Rafel and his team can be seen departing from Port Lligat on one or both of their two boats ‘Felicitat’ and ‘Las Tres Hermanas’. After returning they can be found throughout the town on their daily market routes selling only what they have caught. As well as offering the more popularly known fish, a defining characteristic of the sustainable fisherman is also offering what the sea provides; ‘déntol’, ‘molla’, rascassa’, peix rei’ and ‘joell’ are all local fish in abundance during the right seasons and can be prepared as deliciously as mainstream fish, just in their own style. Aren’t up for learning how to cook a fish you’ve never tried? Let the experience of your hometown fisherman convincing you of the ease and delectability that these fish can offer, all while making your dinner plate a bit more sustainable.//