Q&A: Brisk business in Barcelona

Located in the Ramblas region of the Ciutat Vella (Old Town), in Barcelona’s Mercat St. Josef, La Boqueria is home to Europe’s largest fresh seafood market, comprising 39 individual stalls handed down through generations.

Manel Ripoll i Estera, president of La Boqueria Market Vendors Association, which celebrates its 100-year anniversary next year, talked to SeafoodSource about the market. At the market’s helm for 12 years, Estera stems from a line of Catalunya fishermen, trawling the northeast coastline of the Mediterranean for 130 years; his son is the fifth generation of this seafaring family.
Dove: How has the economy affected the market? 
Estera: The crisis has had a different effect on fresh versus frozen products. Prices differ greatly for fresh fish and seafood because they are heavily dependent on levels of demand by the day and week. This is not the case with frozen fish. The crisis has seen demand for fresh products decrease, as we have experienced, and prices for fresh fish and seafood have fallen. Fishermen have very fixed attitudes and are obsessed with selling at high prices — they don’t want to follow the basic laws of supply and demand.

What are consumers’ purchasing trends right now?
Fresh Spanish hake is very popular. Our three sources are Cantabria (in the northwest), the Atlantic and Mediterranean. La Boqueria consumers are buying bigger and bigger sizes of whole hake in contrast, for example in Andalucia, the trend is for hake slices. Cantabria hake are very large and Spain is privileged to have such abundant quantities. There is also a growing tendency for Mediterranean langoustine with Spain being only second to Japan in global consumption.

What species are selling well? 
Chipirones (small squid) from the Basque Region and Mediterranean; calamares (squid); pulpito (baby Calatan octopus); pulpo (Galician octopus); live fish from Scotland; sole from Holland; lots of hake from Denmark and South Africa; fresh fish from Argentina and Chile, especially monkfish and hake. Transport improvements over many years have greatly improved the variety of species we sell.

What species aren’t selling well?
Look at demand for oysters: Portuguese oysters are very different from Gallego (Galician) oysters, which are again very different from Italian oysters. The problem is one of pricing. Oysters and mussels grow slowly and take a long time to bring to market so prices don’t fluctuate. Fishermen don’t understand the market — if they lower their prices, they will sell more because people are more selective and they want the best price.

What’s the future of seafood sales at La Boqueria?
Selling the highest quality fish and seafood will always be our priority.

How will changes to the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy affect Spain’s seafood industry?
This is a time for a unique solution — aquaculture is becoming very important to cope with Europe’s seafood demand. People want wild hake, for example, but this isn’t in production yet. Growth systems are improving and technological advances allow sea farms to produce cold water species using stable temperature measurements. The EU is also beneficial because it is opening up new export opportunities with non-member states, so we can trade in an environment without frontiers and fewer international barriers.

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