Has Almadraba and Bluefin tuna always been part of Cadiz?
Almadraba fishing is the only way that Bluefin tuna is fished in Cadiz region. However, has the Almadraba and Bluefin tuna in Cadiz always been a part of the region? Almadraba is a natural and sustainable method that takes advantage of the migration of tuna from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, where they spawn. In the straight of Gibraltar area, the nets of the traps are arranged not far from the shore. The tuna are forced to swim towards the nets along the shore as they are threatened by orcas from deeper waters. Orcas visit these waters every year to feed on the same delicacy as us: Bluefin tuna.
Bluefin tuna is the largest tuna species in the world. It is also one of the most sought-after and expensive fish in the world. A single bluefin tuna in Japan sold for over €2.7 million in 2019! Japan has become the largest consumer of this tuna, where it is a highly prized fish for use in sashimi and sushi.
History of Bluefin tuna in the area
Bluefin tuna has been important since the Paleolithic era, as we can see in the cave paintings in Zahara de los Atunes. In this cave they had a tuna painted in the cave to see when the season starts. When the sunlight touched the paint of the tuna through a small crack in the entrance of the cave the people knew that the season had started.
Later, Phoenicians and Romans came here to catch Bluefin tuna in a similar way to the current Almadraba. Almadraba is a type of trap used to capture the bluefin tuna. It is a complex labyrinth of nets and can stretch kilometers in length. It herds the tuna through a series of nets towards the final trap, the copo. The fishermen work together to lift the copo net filled with enormous tuna, “La levantá”, or the “lifting”.
Almadraba is an old Andalusian Arabic word meaning “a place to fight or hit”. During the levantá the fish and the fishermen used to fight and smash together as their space decreases. Since the Romans and Arabs, Spain has used this method to catch fish and conserved it using air, smoke, oil or salt.
During medieval times, these Almadrabas were owned by the Dukes of Medina Sidonia. However, there was not enough money to create these impressive traps or use a large quantity of boats. So they started pulling a semicircular net from the shore to drag the bluefin tuna to a shallower area to hunt them.
Importance of Bluefin tuna currently in Cadiz
Nowadays it is fished in a similar way to the Roman times, using the Almadraba system. However, since the Japanese arrived, they buy over 70% of the fished Bluefin tuna, and therefore they often establish the way they want it to be fished.
Nowadays the levantá (lifting the net) is not raised as much as previously. If the net is lifted too much the space is reduced and the Bluefin tuna get stressed. This decreases the quality of the meat as the Bluefin tuna create lactic acid when they get agitated.
It is not a fight between the fisherman and the tuna anymore, now there are divers which go down into the trap. They kill the Bluefin tuna instantly while still in the water, to reduce the stress to the tuna, and then lift it up to the boat. The tunas must be frozen at -60ºC within 2 hours after being killed. This helps to ensure that all around the world you will receive the freshest bluefin tuna.
How much bluefin tuna can Cadiz fish?
There is an International organization full of scientists who study the population of Bluefin tuna. This organization, called ICCAT sets up the quote that can be fished each year and divides it regionally. In 2019 we could fish over 32.000 tonnes globally, of which over 5500 tonnes in Spain and of these more than 1300 tonnes in Cadiz. This amount was divided into the four Almadrabas in Cadiz province, which are in Zahara de los Atunes, Barbate, Conil de la Frontera and Tarifa. Each of them has its own festival where they celebrate the Bluefin tuna with tapas and events, click here to read more.
Buying Bluefin Tuna
We understand now that maybe not everything sold as Bluefin tuna is actually the true species. In fact there was a study that sampled throughout Spain and found that over 40% was actually Albacore or Yellowfin tuna.
There are different ways to see if it is actually bluefin tuna. First of all, look at the price, if it is too cheap you can doubt if it is real. The price for a kg of a good cut in the market should be around 35 Euros minimum. We can also ask for the tag (with all the info of the tuna) that all Bluefin tuna should have in the markets.
Another way to determine if it is Bluefin tuna in the food market is to see if it bleeds a lot. Bluefin tuna does not bleed much and has a natural red colour. That is why in Spanish it is called Red tuna. Thus, if we go to a food market and see a lot of red liquid underneath the tuna, it is most probably beetroot juice. Markets sometimes use beetroot to colour other tuna species a darker red colour. In this way they pass it off as the more expensive Bluefin tuna.
In conclusion, Cadiz’s culture has been interlinked with fish, and specifically with Bluefin tuna throughout history. Even now you can find lots of local dishes made with different tunas fished in the Almadraba. For example, atún encebollado, mojama, huevas maruca, etc. Since Japanese arrived to Cadiz around the 70s, they brought with them their culture, and we have started eating Bluefin tuna raw.
If you are coming to the region and want to learn more about the Almadraba and Bluefin tuna in Cadiz region keep reading. If you are thinking to travel to other parts of Cadiz, we are based in Vejer de la Frontera. Officially, Vejer is one of the most beautiful villages of Spain, you should come and meet us!
Food and cultural tours
If you want to learn the whole process of the Almadraba and Bluefin tuna in Cadiz province check our Bluefin tuna tour. You will learn the history of Bluefin tuna in the area since Phoenician times. You will go in a private boat ride to visit the Almadraba (if you are lucky it may be active); visit a local food market; and taste different parts of bluefin tuna in all ways, salt-dried, grilled, raw.
If you want to learn more about Vejer de la Frontera, its traditions and gastronomy book our Sherry & Tapas tour! Learn about sherry, wine tastings, and how to pair it with gourmet traditional food from the area. Taste different types of Sherry and local food like bluefin tuna, bull meat, salmorejo, eggplant with honey and pinenuts, etc. The tour includes 5 tapas and 5 wine/Sherries.
If you would like to visit other beautiful white villages like Vejer, we can do a tour of the white villages in Cadiz province. On the other hand we can mix a visit to a beautiful white village with a visit to an olive oil mill. Or you can choose to do a private tour that we can design especially for you based on your interests. Come and join Explore la Tierra in Vejer de la Frontera, Cadiz, Spain!
Our latest addition is our become an artisan for one day tour. Make your own cheese and your own leather souvenir in Ubrique and enjoy its great history and panoramic views. This white village is famous worldwide for its importance for the international leather companies.
Would you like to learn more about Sherry and immerse yourself in the local culture and traditions? If you want to learn and experience it with the company of a local guide and turn your visit to Cadiz into an exciting gastronomic adventure, book with us. Sherry love is very contagious, surely you will also become one!
If you have your own transport we can accompany you while learning about Sherry. Enjoy the best Sherry bodega tours, local culture and traditions and the local gastronomy. In case you do not have a car we can arrange transport, restaurant and the rest of your trip for you.
If you would like to learn all about Jerez-Sherry-Xeres D.O. then join us for our Ultimate Sherry Tasting tour. We can design a private tour just for you and your family.
If you are staying in Vejer de la Frontera or within Cadiz province we can organize a private Sherry tasting with gourmet local tapas for your group. We will go to your place and do a Sherry or Andalusian wine tasting for you privately. We can focus on premium Sherries; VORS and premium Sherries; or Andalusian wines in case you do not like Sherry.