bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is a treasure that passes through twice every year. Canary Islands. Back and forth, to and from Africa on his way in search of warm waters. The ones with the best temperature are those of the Archipelago, but their fishermen cannot take advantage of the catches of this precious gastronomic piece, especially in oriental cuisine, basically Japanese. The reason: the limitation of the quota imposed from the European Union. Barely 527 tons in the current campaign that began on February 7 for 246 ships. Insufficient even, the bosses have staggered the exits so as not to devalue prices and achieve a balance between supply and demand. In less than a month the quota has been exhausted, although the harvest is officially extended until June 14. The costs of fuel, social security, salary of the crew and those of the ship mean that the income from the brief campaign of bluefin tuna is only good enough to escape for a few months.
The afternoon languishes on any given day of the week in the port of Los Cristianos, south of Tenerifethe base of most of the tuna boats on the Island. Two worlds overlap in barely a hundred meters. On the one hand, tourists -every time they return after the pandemic- enjoy their beer mugs or outdoor coffee on the promenade between a comforting winter sun and the light sea breeze. Within the port area, the sailors are busy unloading the fish. It has not been a good day and they only drop a few medium pieces on the dock.
One of the tuna boats docks with refuge in the port of Aronathe New Moby-Dick. At the head of the maneuver is Kiko Hernández Álvarez, an old sea dog at 64 years old, with forty at the head of ships. He directs the operation while the nine crew members prepare the ropes to tie them to the bollards (elements for mooring the ship) on the pier, Facundo, Tony el palmero, Alexis, Víctor, Miguel, the dark-haired one (he is black) without another name, Musta (Moroccan )… Men hardened by the sea who earn their wages with the sweat of their brow in basically hard work. Very hard.
Kiko explains that “this is a tuna vessel 21 meters long (long) by 6 meters wide (wide). Built in 1997 although “I bought it in 2015” explains the owner who adds: “It’s new because there were several Moby Dicks before”. It does not bring bluefin tuna this time because, she emphasizes, “we have already caught as much as we could, 6,500 tons.” Two men get on the ship and leave after a while. are iEU fisheries inspectors. “If they find whitecaps, even if they are to eat, we get a big fine,” Kiko points out. They can only catch tuna. Nothing else is allowed.
At the port, Alexis waits to load the fish into a refrigerated truck. He is a worker for Islatuna, the company that markets most of the tuna with an almost exclusive destination: Mercamadrid. From there to the kitchens of the best restaurants in the country. Kiko also likes the genre he works with on a daily basis: «Mojama is a delicacy and at home we usually make it like tartar. A delight.”
The sea is never the same in the eyes of the fisherman. Sometimes it bears a lot of fruit and sometimes, like today, it doesn’t. Keep in mind that “the harvest began on February 7 and you can no longer fish for bluefin tuna, the quota has run out.” Kiko considers that “directed fishing was a success compared to what it was before, accidental”, but she insists “that amount that they allow us is minimal”. She reflects: “These waters are ideal but we can’t catch the tuna.” She values: “We were deceived for many years because we called bigeye bluefin tuna when bigeye tuna is prickly pear and they do not have the same value.” She cannot live without the sea: «I have been in it since I was a child. The months that I am on land I get depressed. Sometimes I go fishing alone with the rod, without a hook, and I spend hours like that». More than retiring, she thinks “of fixing the command bridge.” She was born in Playa San Juan (Guía de Isora) and started with her father and a good part of her professional activity has been developed in La Palma and specifically in Tazacorte. A son of his has followed the tradition and has a boat on the Isla Bonita. “They have had a very bad time with the volcano but the crisis had already been going on for a long time,” he points out. He is the only boy of his five children with four partners. The girls have not taken the path because “the presence of women in this world is not a tradition.” Kiko’s relationship with the sea is love-hate. She recounts: “Four years ago I jumped off some rocks and broke my C1 (cervical vertebra) in three places. The doctor performed a miracle.”
Until last year, Tenerife’s tuna boats were divided into two groups, with about 200 boats. It is still the artisanal group that can catch up to 145 tons. In 2021, a decision was made, questioned by the sector, to separate the cane growers. On the one hand, the 35 such as the New Moby Dick, which can fish 2,200 tons (the bluefin tuna quota is separate) and another 18 whose catches are reduced to 62 tons. The reason is that it has been analyzed that during the previous four years they did not catch a minimum of ten tons. Without taking into account the Covid-19 crisis or the possible problems, from engine failure to employer illness.
The canary fleet and, therefore, Tenerife is purely artisanal, but this commitment to sustainability is not taken into account when the quotas are distributed. The method is “one man, one hook”, says Kiko Hernández who explains that “in our case there are two because we have two liñas (fishing lines). We fatten with mackerel; sometimes none itches and sometimes up to four». This harvest, a specimen of bluefin tuna weighing 457 kilos has been caught. Kiko proudly assures that he has traveled the coast of all of Europe and that “the Secretary of Fisheries of the European Union calls me by my name”.
The Red tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is the base of one of the most lucrative fisheries in the world with specimens highly persecuted by the Japanese gastronomic market. In other areas fence techniques are used. A kilo is sold by fishermen for an average of seven euros and can quadruple its value in a restaurant. A treasure that passes through the Canary Islands twice a year. It happens because staying, stays little.