The heat wave is spreading to the mussels of the Ebro Delta

The heat wave is spreading to the mussels of the Ebro Delta

Juan Ramón Morelló, president of the producers of El Fangar Bay in the Ebro Delta, stretches the rope, no more than four meters long, from a raft that is now naked, only with empty shells: “See? There’s almost nothing left. It’s all dead.” Under normal conditions, it would have been filled with the little native mussel juveniles for the coming season. The extreme heat this summer has pushed sea temperatures to 31 degrees and has had a deadly impact on the rafts: the farmers in the delta have lost around 150,000 mussels this year – out of the 3 to 3.5 million they produce annually – and what is worse, a million seed or offspring next season Morelló shows that there will be no choice but to import from Italy or Greece.

Adding to the decline of the Ebro Delta, which has been denounced for years by the industry, environmentalists and the civil defense movement, is now the scourge of this reckless heat wave that has raised sea temperatures to unprecedented and sustained limits in time. This summer it has already exceeded 31 degrees, when 28 marks the limit of the risk of mollusk extinction. “The problem is that it hasn’t just been a few days, we’ve been like this for a month and a half. That’s the strange thing,” confirms Gerard Bonet, executive director of the Union of Mollusc Producers, confirming that they used to not suffer so much from the heat and therefore did much less damage. The economic impact has not been calculated as it depends on the price per kilo of seed planted by producers in neighboring countries. But between a million and a million and a half euros are expected to be lost.

Morelló drives the engine of the platform and welcomes the wind that blows with some force and creates a slight swell in El Fangar. It’s almost new: They haven’t seen it in a month and a half, and if it had flown, he says, it would have saved them a week of the season. The air, he says, supplies the sea with oxygen, which is what this mollusk needs, which is characterized by being small and of excellent quality. But it hasn’t happened to date. “At the end of June, I started thinking about what would happen,” he says, looking at the data from the Research and Technology Institute, which tells him about the temperature, oxygen, salinity and pH of the sea. Against the clock, the heat forced them to prematurely retrieve the clams from the rafts and transport them to the saltwater treatment plants. There are no patent solutions: they have a limited lifespan and do not always lead to a saturated market.

Dead mussel hatchlings in the Ebro Delta.Dead mussel hatchlings in the Ebro Delta Massimiliano Minocri

The mussel production in the delta, which provides 400 direct jobs and 800 indirect jobs, is divided into two bays: Els Alfacs, the largest, has 90 rafts and produces around 2.5 million mussels. In this case, the collection starting in April had already been sold on the market. The one in El Fangar has 74 rafts and produces between 700,000 and 800,000 shells. You lost that 150,000 in this case, 20% of the total. But surely the loss is greater. Marc Castells from the Marisc Mediterrani factory had to throw away 20,000 kilos because he couldn’t sell them anymore. “It’s a product that’s sold live and with an expiration date. The campaign lasted two months for us and stayed in 20 days,” he says. Today he imports them from Galicia, he says, showing the large containers, or from Italy.

Everyone agrees that climate change conditions will determine the future of mussel production and that is why they have been asking the Ministry of Agriculture and Climate Protection for some time to drain El Fangar Bay with fresh water and open a canal to allow the water can circulate and oxygenated. The shellfish harvest, Morelló warns, has fallen by half. “We have a treasure, but they don’t seem to recognize it,” he says. Last September, around 500 people, called by the Movement de Lluita pel Delta de l’Ebre, formed a human chain a kilometer long, touching their feet in the sand, from the end of the bay to the beach of El Goleró to ask the administration to take action because the bay is closed.

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Subscribe toA worker from the Marisc Mediterrani company packs bags of imported mussels.A worker from the Marisc Mediterrani company packs bags of imported mussels Massimiliano Minocri

Faced with climate change, the sector is considering increasing the production of oysters, now limited to half a million kilos, asserting their quality against that of France, for example. “They withstand heat better than clams,” says Bonet. The point is that in Catalonia, unlike mussels, consuming oysters is not a habit, and this is a trend that the sector, with the support of the administration, wants to change. In addition to waiting for public help, growers now no longer have to wait for negotiations with the Italian or Greek suppliers and trust that the high temperatures – last year in Greece – will not kill their young to make the transfer – they do it in refrigerators – and start sowing in October. The question remains how this will affect agritourism: yesterday only a cat walked along a tray and scared away the seagulls. But the sale of mussels, even if they are not from the delta, does not stop. “They have nothing to do with us. But we have something to eat and people want it,” says a neighbor after buying a four-kilo sack in Deltebre.

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