Percebes. / SUR

The shellfish that costs lives

Most Spaniard have never tried goose barnacles and many give their lives collecting them

ANDREW J. LINN

Although most Spaniards know what percebes (goose barnacles) are, many have never tasted them. They are probably the most expensive shellfish available today, cannot be cultivated commercially, and the collection of which costs lives.

Ernest Hemingway once described percebes as looking like miniature elephants' feet, and they have been described as the most concentrated sea-tasting product brought from the oceans. At Christmas the price reaches meteoric levels of several hundred euros per kilo.

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As we expect from Britain's BBC, a recent audio podcast: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09by4hr has opened up the world of the percebes hunter to a wider public, and, again typically Auntie, the emphasis is on the sexual discrimination that once epitomised the collection of these delicate shellfish.

On the rocky Galician coast where fishing takes place, there is a two-and-a half-hour daily window in which to gather the permitted five kilos. This involves hanging onto vertical rock faces while being pummeled by heavy waves, and there are many little crosses on the rocks in memory of victims of fatal accidents.

Women were always limited to catching three kilograms daily, while men could collect five, and at the dockside auction male catches were given preferential economic advantages over females'.

The podcast outlines the story of two sisters, Elvira and María José, who, tired of the massive sexual discrimination involved, decided to challenge the trade association head on.

Susana ran for presidency and received death threats, although eventually she achieved the post and made changes. It is evident that percebes fishing is not just a question of physical courage, but of moral courage too.