History of the Carril Shellfish Growing Fields
The Carril Shellfish Growing Fields have a long tradition that goes back several centuries. Particularly, the earliest historical records date back to manuscripts from the Middle Ages, documenting mollusk cultivation and harvesting in the region. These data point to Carril’s location as significant for the production and sale of pickled oysters and, because of its port’s excellent conditions for maritime traffic, the shipping of such product to the rest of the Iberian Peninsula.
Incorporation of New Species of Mollusks
Documentation from 1870 provides a detailed description of the exploitation of mollusks in Carril, revealing that the residents not only were harvesters but also made an effort to acquire young specimens to transfer them for fattening to the growing farms.
Up to that point, the oyster was the most productive mollusk in the area, but overexploitation had made this species scarce, forcing the shellfish harvesters to turn their attention to mussels, which they sold cooked in nearby counties and pickled in farther-off marketplaces.
The Rise of the Canning Industry
Early in the 20th century, as the canning industry grew, particularly in the 1930s, the canning companies already settled in this region began to sell clams, razor clams, and mussels. The cockle at that time had little prominence since it was considered food for people without resources. During these years, the Catalan market was the best for selling these canned products because of its extensive size, large population, and widespread love of eating these delicacies. In the first decades of this century, the most reputable and profitable shellfish was the oyster, a very high-priced product that was only within reach of people with considerable acquisitive power.
However, given the progressive scarcity of these bivalves in the 1920s, there were reports of an increase in the number of Carrileños dedicated to clam farming in special nurseries (growing fields), marked with stones and sticks for further inheritance among the families. Additionally, progress in transportation, such as the expansion and improvement of roads, the development of railroad networks, and the increase in the number of trucks, favored the sale of shellfish. Over the years, the number of private concessions multiplied, which started conflicts between the new owners and the supporters of community exploitation of the growing fields. One of the problems faced by the growers was the right to exploit shellfishing areas since the exploitation of the now private resources had been communal for centuries. The problem was further worsened by poaching, non-compliance with closed seasons, and the low sales price of shellfish.
The Impact of War Conflicts
Shellfish sales decreased significantly during the Civil War (1936-1939) because of the location of the major fish markets in the Republican Zone, including those of Zaragoza, Madrid, Bilbao, and Barcelona.
During World War II (1939-1945), the destruction of the olive groves caused an oil shortage, forcing producers to seek new alternatives and opt for pickled preparation and canned mollusks in their natural state.
However, during the two decades after the war, clams, oysters, and cockles became the primary source of income for coastal residents since shellfish provided a high-protein food supply during that famine period. As a result, their consumption increased, motivated by both a necessary factor and their superior taste. Thus, fresh and canned versions of these products were consumed, which resulted in uncontrolled over-harvesting of the shellfish areas. At this time, the canning sector became the primary mollusk customer. It is worth noticing that between 1946 and 1948, clams suffered an unexpectedly significant price increase caused by the canneries’ high demand and many poor harvests.
In 1950, shellfishing became the families’ primary source of employment and income since they had been struggling for years from a sardine shortage that would endure until 1956. Moreover, the population was still suffering the collateral damage of the Civil War. All of these factors contributed to the growth of unrestricted shellfishing, endangering reproduction and ultimately resulting in the extinction of some shellfish species. In fact, the majority of shellfish, at that time, was sold before reaching the fish market.
Legalization of Plots of Land
In 1958, the marina authorities of Vilagarcía, in collaboration with the Guild association, initiated the first legalization process of the already established shellfish nurseries, owned by most of the Carril neighbors who still transferred them from parents to children. The official regularization ended this process on December 1961, the date of the legalization of 611 plots.
Increased local and international demand from Europe, triggered by a period of rapid economic growth known as the «Golden Age,» caused shellfish production to reach Historic records between 1960 and 1975. Authorities of the time, however, were still unable to exploit these resources in a regulated and organized manner.
An Association for the Protection of the Shellfish Growers’ Interests
Coming to the modern times, and due to the lack of protection for this ancient profession, in the aquaculture sector arose a necessity to establish an association – besides the Carril Guild, obviously, a Shellfish Brotherhood– to be responsible for defending the Carril shellfish growers’ interests. As a result, they constituted the ASSOCIATION OF FISH PRODUCERS on November 13, 1989, becoming, to this day, the largest in terms of membership and socioeconomic significance. According to the Department of the Sea’s most recent official statistics, there are currently about 650 families engaged in shellfish farming, of which 670 are members of this nonprofit organization. In socioeconomic terms, it is the first-ranked enterprise within the City Council of Vilagarcía de Arousa.