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Traditional Fishing Boats Still Land their Fish Catch in Nerja

Despite declining fish stocks Spanish fishermen still ply the Mediterranean. Their picturesque fishing boats keep sustainable fishing alive off Andalucia.

On one of my recent Mediterranean boat charter vacations, I discovered Spain’s wonderful variety of fresh fish and seafood is one of the great delights of life in Andalusia, and the traditional fishing boats, brilliantly painted and piously named, are among the most evocative sights on the coast. Hauled up on the beach to land their fish catch, or ploughing across clear blue water they, and the walnut faces of their fishermen recall an older Spain.

Sadly, each year we see fewer and fewer of them. Over fishing by large, modern fishing boats has led to dwindling fish stocks, and social and economic changes make the hard life of the inshore fisherman less appealing for young men. But still a few determined fishermen cling to the traditional fishing methods – and their may be faint signs of hope for the future of Nerja’s fishing boats.

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Nerja’s Traditional Fishing Boats

Early 20th Century photographs show Nerja’s beaches crowded with fishing boats of all sizes; barely five or six years ago there were still upward of eighty spread between the beaches of Burrina, Carabeo, Calahonda and el Salon, and each morning a procession of brightly painted craft headed back for their home beaches to land their fish catch.

Sturdy, carvel built vessels, broad in the beam, with a high prow and stern, the design of the traditional Spanish fishing boat has barely changed over the centuries, save for the outboard motors which have replaced oars and sail. Brightly painted, most often in bold red white and blue, and named for saints or family, and much patched and repaired, the boats are one of the most delightful sights along the chain of sandy, rock girt coves which make up Nerja’s beautiful coastline.

Today, barely twenty or thirty boats remain, but still a dwindling band of largely part-time fishermen bring in a fish catch of unsurpassed freshness to sell on street corners and small fish shops around the town. I recently met a typical Nerja fisherman, Paco, as returned at dawn with a splendid catch of shimmering silver Bonito, or Tuna. His story is a delightful illustration of the survival of traditional fishing methods.

Overfishing and Declining Fish CatchesThe Mediterranean countries have a huge appetite for fish, and ineffective European Union fishing policies have done little to preserve fish stocks. Indeed, the EU policy has allowed a huge expansion in Spain’s offshore fishing fleet and extensive over fishing, combined with a widely criticised insistence on “discarding” huge quantities of fish caught over quota, which must be returned, dead, to the sea. All this has been at the expense of the traditional fisherman with their inshore fishing boats whose fish catches have steadily dwindled.

Despite the sad reduction in numbers in recent years of Nerja’s traditional Spanish fishermen. and their brethren along the coast, there are nevertheless some small grounds for optimism in the future in three respects:

The EU seems finally ready to agree on a more sustainable fishing policy.

The local Andalucian authorities appear to be acting more firmly to control destructive trawling by larger fishing vessels close inshore, and enforcing an annual “closed season”.

An artificial reef has been built off Nerja to provide a secure breeding habitat for fish.

Nerja’s traditional fishing industry can never be restored to its former glory, but a few determined fishermen still launch their boats from Nerja’s beaches. There are some grounds to hope that they’ll do so for many years ahead, bringing huge pleasure not only to those who love fresh, traditionally caught fish, but also to the visitors who admire their picturesque craft.


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