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Almadraba or Bluefin tuna

The legacy of the almadraba

The passage of Bluefin and other tuna through the waters of the Strait of Gibraltar on their migration from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea (May to June) and the return (July to September), has favored offshore fishing on these coasts since very ancient times. A complex system of nets to capture these precious tuna was already used in Phoenician times. Activity in the Almadraba fishing networks was actively developed in the Roman period, coupled with their trading of derived products, and remained active during the Muslim era. There was great expansion between the 13th and 18th centuries, a period in which their operation was subject to the monopoly of the Ducal House of Medina Sidonia.

Indisputably, the almadraba has been used as a fishing art for some 30 centuries, yet the species has only become endangered by excess capture in recent years, and not because of the almadraba fishing itself, but rather the contrary; the danger came with the use of modern capture techniques. It can be said that the almadraba is a sustainable form of fishing. On one hand, it is used only during a specific time of year, a period that does not interfere in the life cycles of the species. On the other, it is selective; of all the tuna circulating in the waters of the Strait of Gibraltar, only a small number are diverted towards the coast, where they enter the almadraba networks that trap them. In addition, the almadraba is respectful with the environment, and it is clean. As in ancient times, it is still a modus vivendi for many families in the populations of the Cadiz coast: Conil, Barbate, Zahara de los Atunes, Tarifa... It is their traditional way of life and, together with the processing and auxiliary industries,  represents one of the backbones of local economy.

How it works

The almadraba networks comprise a complex labyrinthine structure of nets, with two essential parts: the raberas and the cuadro. The raberas are long-length net lines - several hundred meters - anchored vertically down to the bottom; one line is connected to the shore and other is secured deeper in the water, thus creating a passage, ready to catch and direct the tuna to the cuadro, or main “frame” structure. The cuadro consists of a rectangular structure composed of nets anchored to the sea bottom, divided into several compartments: cámara (entry chamber), buche (passage enclosure towards the copo), bordonal (similar to the buche, regulates the volume of catch), and copo (bag net). Its function is to group the trapped tuna for their capture. The copo is the only compartment fitted with a horizontal bag-type net that is hoisted to the surface for the extraction of the fish, in an operation called the levantá (literally, “hoisting”, but spelled to reproduce the Andalusian pronunciation). As the copo narrows, the water seems to boil as a result of the high concentration of tuna. This is the peak moment of this type of fishing, the almadraberos (almadraba fishermen), working intensively as a team, mouthing cries of support to one another, as was ancestrally done.

In ancient times, the tuna were captured using hooks. Nowadays cranes are used, raising the fish to the vessels, where they are slaughtered by expert hands that minimize animal suffering.

The almadrabas remain as they always were, a fishing system based on a network of ropes, nets, anchoring devices, and boats, combined with the skill of the fishermen, the climatology, and why not, also, a component of luck.

The Bluefin tuna

Its scientific name is Thunnus thynnus, it is the largest sized tuna. Also called Bluefin tuna, Atún Rojo (Red tuna), or Cimarrón (Wild tuna), it is a species of tuna that lives in the pelagic ecosystems of the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas, particularly the Mediterranean Sea.

It is greatly appreciated by the gastronomic world, where it is a true myth, especially among the Japanese, who consume it raw (in sashimi, sushi, etc.). Japan is an important receiving market for this fish, where it is highly valued.

The Thunnus thynnus possesses a very characteristic coloring, given that it presents an intense dark blue back, contrasting with the whitish tones of its belly. It can measure up to three meters and weigh 300 kg. Its food base is comprised of other fish, crustaceans and cephalopods; it is a naturally voracious eater.

Its flesh has reddish tones, it is especially tasty, and shows significant variations in relation to the piece in question. The amount of marbling fat, influencing the juiciness and flavor of the piece, is higher in surface parts than in those that are close to the spine. It is one of the few fish that is sectioned into specific pieces, in a process called ronqueo. This is done based on the state of fattiness of the parts, which will be the main aspect taken into account in determining its destination for consumption: with fresh, canned or salted processing. All parts of this tuna are used except for the blood.

Culinary Uses

Ventresca (belly), Tarantelo (triangular piece adjacent to the belly, near the tail), Cola Blanca (lower end), Cola Negra (higher end), Plato (loin), Solomillo (higher loin)... These are some of the different pieces or cuts from this tuna. Their color, texture and appearance differs substantially from one to another.

The culinary versatility of Bluefin tuna is immense. From the local traditional cuisine of Cadiz, with its different preparations and stews, to the more exotic Asian or devout Japanese tradition for quality raw fish, and all through Western cuisine, Bluefin tuna is the undisputed protagonist of both traditional recipes and the most sophisticated proposals of avant-garde gastronomy.

It is worth pointing out that it is preferable for the most noble and fatty parts of this fish to undergo as little culinary processing as possible, for their exquisite taste and delicate and fragrant texture should not be masked. This is a very healthy type of fat, with a high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids, very effective as regulators of cholesterol.

To avoid being limited to only seasonal consumption, and to maintain a constant supply, there is a business project in Barbate that commercializes the captures of the almadraba networks year-round. They apply a freezing process of up to -60º C, guaranteeing the maintenance of the properties of the fish. The general worldwide demand in the high-end restaurant business has pushed this initiative, whose aim it is to be able to market the product beyond the brief fishing season of the almadrabas.

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