The province's most lucrative port
Last weekend the small town of Caleta de Vélez celebrated its patron saint and indeed the patron saint of fishermen; la Virgen del Carmen.
Every year the fishermen bring a large statue of the Virgin along the coast on their fishing vessels in a moving tribute to the lady they believe watches over them, acting as the guardian angel, as they spend long hours fishing for what will become the catch of the day for the hundreds of restaurants and bars across Malaga province and beyond.
Although the Virgen del Carmen has been the patron saint of seafarers for centuries, the port of Caleta, as it is today, has only been in operation since 1978, when the building replaced what had been nothing more than a small jetty since the mid-1930s.
Growth of an industry
Since then, the port and fishing industry have been central to the growth of Caleta de Vélez and by 2015, it had become the most important in Malaga province, even registering the greatest number of fish caught in Andalucía.
It registered a whopping 5.2 million kilos of fish last year, compared with just under two million kilos in Estepona, which was second in the five fishing ports in the province (others are Fuengirola, Marbella and Malaga city). This equated to a value of ten million euros; 45 per cent of the total value for Malaga province.
Caleta port boasts a fleet of 73 fishing vessels which share the three different types of fishing activity; the ‘cerco’ – meaning shallow water fish, ‘arrastre’ – meaning trawler fishing and ‘marisqueros’ – meaning shellfish.
La lonja, or fish market in Caleta comes alive early in the morning and then again in the evening when boats bring in the fish. In the morning, buyers flock to the port to buy sardines and anchovies, typically caught by the ‘cerco.’ The ‘subasta’, or auction, allows sales in bulk, whereas the afternoon auction sees the arrastre sales of prawns, cod, hake or red mullet and marisqueros, who bring shellfish and even octopus, which is negotiated by weight.
As the different boats come in, bucket-loads of fish, already sorted by species, are weighed and given a unique number. The fish is then taken to the auction area, where an auctioneer sets the bidding price and buyers bid for the items they want. A distinct bell rings when a buyer settles on a price. The fish then goes off to be packed in ice and ready for transportation.
Activity at the port and the laws and restrictions connected with it, are overseen by the Cofradia de Pescadores de Vélez-Málaga (association of fishermen of Vélez-Málaga), who in turn report to the Junta de Andalucía.
Although public access to the fish market and auction is prohibited, the importance of the industry can be felt in the town. Fishermen can be seen untangling the huge nets that take up large amounts of space next to the building and the constant coming and going of restaurant and market stall owners are two reminders of the complexity of fishing.
A popular destination
Caleta has grown up along with fishing and some of the town’s bars even open to accommodate the unsociable hours that many fishermen must keep; the Virgin del Carmen bar on Caleta’s main road, running parallel to the port, opens at 5am, providing those returning in the early hours with a hearty and well-deserved breakfast of coffee and churros.
The bar has only recently extended its opening hours beyond the previous 12pm closing time, cashing in on the recent explosion of foreigners and Spaniards visiting the town.
A recent announcement by the Junta de Andalucía to start work this year to connect the port with the town, highlights the growing importance of Caleta de Vélez as a popular destination and although separate from the industrial fishing port side, the pleasure port to the east of the town has become an extremely well-frequented stop off for pleasure boats and yachts. The opening of fashionable bars and restaurants offering live music and even private catamaran tours all go to show that Caleta has firmly established itself on the tourist trail.
Yet, it is easy to forget, while tucking into grilled sardines or fried fish and watching the world go by in front of the harbour, that 500 metres down the road, quite a different scene prevails, with arguably Malaga’s busiest fishermen, this humble and centuries-old trade, bringing in the province’s most famous culinary commodity to our plates.source surinenglish