<a href="http://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/blogs/richard#">Life in the Slow Food Lane</a>

Life in the Slow Food Lane

A look at the eco side of eating, with Richard Cornish

Where are all the baby eels?

glass eels

Glass eels

Credit: Tim Watts

- Advertisement -


I have been in Spain researching a new book. As they say, "it's hard work but some one has to do it."

I was in the north of country trying to find someone who was selling anguilas, or baby eels. You're too late," said the man in the San Sebastian market. They've all been eaten!"

Anguilas, also known as glass eels, are the elvers of the eels that inhabit the waterways of Europe.

The adult eels, quite amazingly, swim from their European ponds, brooks, streams and rivers and make their way to the warm waters of the Saragossa Sea near the Bahamas.

Here they mate, lay eggs and die. Their eggs hatch, and, in an act of quite remarkable navigation, swim back to their family waterway in Europe.

It's these little baby eels that are captured as they return to river their parents swam down. They are half as long as your little finger, almost see-through and, when cooked in certain ways, are apparently very, very tasty.

Or they were.

What was once quite a common seasonal food much appreciated by Spanish cooks is now just a memory. What stocks are left are incredibly expensive. They have been in two words - over fished.

"We all got together and bought a kilo for 800 Euros," said Timeteo, our host at a men's cooking club, a Basque Country social institution at which men get together and cook for each other - and drink. "It is a lot of money, but what is money when you all share and have a small mouthful each."

Despite the lack of stock, the Spanish still demand to eat the little eels, or at least appear to be doing so.

Fake anguilas, called angulas, are sold in markets everywhere. They look like baby eels but taste like cheap fish, starch and citric acid - which is what they are made from.

Great loads of white fish are munched up with binders and formed into little fake eels - the black eyes painted on with food dye.

As the price for the real baby eels gets higher the incentive to let them recruit, or breed up into grown up eels, dissipates.

As long as there is a buyer there will be a seller. As long as there is a demand there will be a supply - until there are no more natural resources. The price of the eels should be a good indication that there is a problem with the stock.

I didn't ask my host Timoteo why they still ate eels if they were so endangered. My Spanish was not quite good enough.