Spanish sea bass. Juan Manuel Sanz / © ICEX
The farming of certain fish species, especially freshwater species and certain mollusks, has been practiced since time immemorial. Fish-farming was apparently invented by the Chinese in 2500 BC. But in Europe, there are references to the farming of certain species, such as oysters, by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. The Romans installed both fresh and saltwater tanks in their homes to breed eels and moray eels, and in the Middle Ages carp and trout, amongst other species, were bred in river ponds close to abbeys and monasteries.
But large-scale aquaculture has only really taken off in Spain in recent decades. The introduction of new technologies has now made fish farming a real alternative to conventional fishing and is a way of counterbalancing the alarming decline in fish stocks while meeting domestic and international demand.
Galicia, Mollusk Paradise
Specially important amongst the species farmed in Spain are mollusks. The most important and traditional is the mussel, which was first started in the Galician rias in the 1940s. The coasts of Galicia with their rich Atlantic waters are the ideal environment for the production of top-quality mussels which are exported to many markets where their size and succulent orange flesh are much appreciated.
The mussels produced by the traditional method of bateas comply with the strictest of quality controls, and are rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals - one hundred grams (3½ oz) of mussels are sufficient to meet the daily need for protein of an adult. Today Spain is the world's second largest producer of mussels after China. Galician mussels have a place of honor in local gastronomy and festivities, and are covered by the Designation of Origin Mejillón de Galicia.
Other mollusks cultivated in Galicia are oysters, also using the batea system, and clams and cockles in nurseries. Oysters, clams and mussels are also farmed in parts of the Mediterranean and southern Atlantic coasts of Spain, especially in Catalonia and Andalusia and, on a smaller scale, in the Balearic Islands.
The most important species farming in northern Spain, mostly in Galicia, is turbot, for which the facilities are located on land. Farming of new species - octopus, pollack and sole – is gradually starting up in this part of Spain.
Gilthead bream and sea bass are produced in the warmer waters along the Mediterranean and southern Atlantic coasts. Various systems are used, mostly floating cages, but there are also semi-extensive methods, such as those established along the Coast of Cádiz, where ponds have been created on former salt pans. Bluefin tuna is also farmed in the Murcia region, eels in the Valencian Community, and meager in Andalusia.
Amongst the freshwater species, the most widely-produced in Spain is rainbow trout, especially in Galicia, followed by Castile-León and Castile-La Mancha. On a much smaller scale, other continental species such as tench are being cultivated in reservoirs and lakes in Extremadura and, to a lesser extent, in Castile-León. Sturgeon is being produced in the upper reaches of the river Guadalquivir (Sierra Nevada, Granada) and in parts of the Pyrenees in Navarre and Lleida, and crab in the Guadalquivir marshlands (Andalucía).
Aquaculture in Spain today is a modern industry made up of competitive companies using advanced technology. Their products account for about one third of Spanish fish production, guaranteeing the presence on our tables of a large number of species. It should be remembered that the Spaniards are a nation of fish-eaters, with fish being prepared in a multitude of ways - casseroled, fried, baked, pickled, with rice, etc. Fish and shellfish enjoy pride of place in Spanish cuisine, not only in coastal areas but all over the country.
List of food stores in Spain
List of food stores around the world
- Gilt-head sea bream
- Mexillón de Galicia o Mejillón de Galicia PDO
- Sea bass
9th (1st in mussels). Source: FAO.
5,120 establishments (3,819 marine aquaculture, 183 freshwater aquaculture).
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