Heatwave batters Spain’s Mediterranean mussel crop

DELTEBRE: “There’s nothing left here,” sighs Javier Franch while shaking the heavy rope of a mussel that has just been pulled to the surface in northeastern Spain. All have died.
With the country experiencing a prolonged and devastating heatwave this summer, water temperatures in Ebro River Deltathe main mussel production area of ​​the Spaniards Mediterraneanis hitting 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees degrees Fahrenheit).
And any grower who doesn’t remove their molluscs in time will lose everything.
But that wasn’t the worst of it: most of the following year’s crop also died in one of the most intense heat waves in Mediterranean Spain.
In late July, experts said the western Mediterranean was experiencing an “extraordinary” sea heatwave, with hotter-than-normal temperatures continuing to pose a threat to the entire marine ecosystem. .
Franch, 46, who has spent nearly three decades working for the company founded by her father, said: “The high temperatures have cut the crop,” said.
The relentless sun has heated a mix of freshwater and saltwater along the fragile coastal wetlands of Catalonia, where the Ebro River empties into the Mediterranean.
On a scorching summer morning in Deltabre, one of the municipalities of DeltaThe mussel rafts, long wooden structures with ropes attached, can each hold up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of mussels, so they are packed with workers hustling during the busy season.
But there is hardly any movement.
“We’ve lost the remaining output, not much, because we’re working hard to stay ahead so we don’t go through this,” explained. Carles Fernandezconsultant for the Federation of Krill Producers (Fepromodel) of the Ebro Delta.
“But the problem is we’ve lost a source of young stock for next year and we’re going to have pretty high overhead costs.”
According to initial estimates, the heat has wiped out 150 tons of commercial mussels and 1,000 tons of young mussels in the Delta.
And producers are calculating their losses to be more than a million euros ($1,000,000) as they will have to buy young krill from Italy or Greece for next year.
“When you have a week when the temperature is higher than 28°C, there may be some deaths, but this summer has lasted for almost a month and a half,” with the highest being close to 31°C, said. Head of Fepromodel Gerardo Bonet.
Normally, the two bays of the Ebro River Delta produce about 3,500 tons of mussels and 800 tons of oysters, making Catalonia the second largest producer of Spain, although still far behind in output. Galiciathe northwest region on the Atlantic coast is colder.
For years now, the harvest in the Delta has been brought forward, cutting short a crop that once lasted from April to August.
Affected by coastal erosion and lack of silt supplies, the rich ecology of the Ebro River Delta, a biosphere reserve and one of the most important wetlands of the western Mediterranean , which are particularly vulnerable to climate change.
And this harsh summer, when Spain endured 42 days of heatwave, a record three times the average over the past decade, said national forecaster AEMET, has also left its mark. it’s under the water.
“Some marine populations that can’t cope with these high temperatures for a long time will suffer from what we call mass fish deaths,” said the marine biologist. Emma Cebrian afterward Spanish National Research Council (CISC).
“Imagine a forest, like 60 or 80 percent of the trees that die, leading to an impact on its biodiversity,” she said.
The succession of heatwaves over land has produced another wave at sea, which awaits analysis of all data in November, which could turn out to be the “worst thing” in this part of the continent. Zhonghai since records began in the 1980s.
While marine heatwaves are not a new phenomenon, they are becoming more and more extreme with increasingly severe consequences.
“If we compare it to a bushfire, a bushfire can have an impact, but if you continue to have them, it probably means that affected populations can’t be,” says Cebrian. recuperate”.
Experts say the Mediterranean is becoming “tropical,” and krill grower Franch is swayed by mounting evidence as his boat sails between empty mussel rafts in an empty bay. wind.
He is considering increasing production of oysters, which are more heat tolerant, but currently account for only 10% of his production.
But he hopes it will help secure his future in a field that employs 800 people directly or indirectly in Ebro Delta.
“The sector is under threat because climate change is a reality and what we are seeing now is going to happen again,” he worries.

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