Has climate change depleted stocks of boquerones?
A PLATE of deep-fried fish at your favourite beachside restaurant could soon be a thing of the past.
Stocks of that staple of un plato de pescaito frito – the boqueron – have fallen so low in the waters of Málaga that this fish barely figures in the province’s fish counters and restaurants.
Instead, los Boquerones – as natives to Málaga are known – are being served what they consider as an inferior cousin of the Engraulis encrasicholus – a species of white bait.
Smaller and more tender than those caught in the Atlantic Ocean, the white bait of Málaga is seen as a particular delicacy.
“For a number of years now, I have not been able to find un boqueron de Málaga in the lonja (the wholesale fish market). I sell people fish caught off Huelva, but these are not the same,” a stall holder at the city’s Ataranza market said.
Despite measures to protect the fish, catches have dropped dramatically in recent years from 10,000 to 500 tonnes annually – and scientists are at a loss to explain why.
“We do not know for sure why the numbers of this fish are now so low in the Alboran Sea (the stretch of water from Málaga to Almería). Restrictions are in place to prevent the fish being caught in the spring, and fishermen have to throw back immature boquerones,” said Ana Giráldez of the Oceanographic Centre.
One theory has it that Global Warming is contributing to the dwindling stocks. Temperatures in the Mediterranean have risen gradually over the past 50 years, which has led to increased salt levels in the water. According to Señora Giráldez, the fish inhabits areas in which salt and fresh water freely circulates. However, low rainfall has led to a decrease in the amount of water flowing into the sea from rivers.
Changes in the food chain are also thought to be a factor in the loss of the boqueron. There has ben an increase in numbers of mackerel and a decrease in the amount of plankton in the Mediterranean.