Natives of Ibiza love gerret, a type of fish considered almost worthless in the rest of Spain, and with virtually no commercial value. On Ibiza, however, especially among the older people – and let us not forget that they are the wisest – it is a highly prized variety. And the fact is that it is a real delicacy which, if it sold for 80 Euros per kilo instead of an actual average of 8, everyone would want on their plate. There are endless recipes but, in my personal opinion, the best way to enjoy it in all its splendour is torrat (roasted), with coarse salt, a drop of olive oil, a little lemon and a side salad of cabbage. Another of the most popular ways to eat it is marinated, another delicacy, not to mention rice with cauliflower and gerret, or simply fried gerret. Admittedly, the fish has spines and it is awkward to clean, but its flavour makes up for the work that goes into preparing it.
Gerret fish (Spicara smaris) or caramel, as the Spanish call it, meets all the criteria for a nutritious meal in the daily diet, a semi-oily fish, rich in Omega 3, and although it is small, it has the advantage of being free from harmful compounds such as heavy metals. And as if that wasn’t enough, it is a sustainable fish, harvested in a traditional way, respecting the environment and generating wealth on the island. Each fishing vessel has a weekly quota of 800 kilos, and the most recent studies show that this particular fishing industry is in optimum condition, with no risk of over-exploitation. In the case of gerret, unlike other species of fish, what is needed is to encourage its consumption.
While it has been underrated in recent years, at the moment it appears to be winning back the attention it deserves, thanks to promotional campaigns including the Fir des Gerret, (Gerret Fish Festival), driven by the fishermen’s guilds of Ibiza town and San Antonio, and the town council of Santa Eulalia, with the support of the Consell (Island Government). This year saw the third occasion on which the festival has been held, and it has now established itself as one of the main gastronomic events on the island, when the restaurant staff go out onto the streets to offer tapas made with gerret. So, at this year’s event, we could find everything from gerret torrat through to the avant-garde gerret hot dog on offer at the Sa Brisa restaurant, not neglecting to mention the more traditional rice dishes, or even the Indian curries. The festival is a fun event for the whole family, with this delicious fish as the focal point, along with the many musical performances.
But if we want to go on enjoying gerret, we will need people prepared to get up at four in the morning to put out to sea before the crack of dawn. Five fishing vessels on the island are still dedicated to fishing for gerret in the traditional way: two in Santa Eulalia, two in San Antonio and one in Ibiza town. Joan ‘Sendic’, Emilio and Mustafa (from Ibiza, Andalusia and Morocco respectively), make up the crew of one of the llaüts (traditional Balearic fishing vessels) that, every morning from Monday to Friday during the fishing season (from 16th October until 15th April), are dedicated to gerret fishing.
We set sail in the ‘Joven Antonio’, a llaüt almost nine metres in length, to find out for ourselves what a day in the lives of these fishermen is like. In the early morning of a cold day in March, we set out on our fishing trip, but the sky is clear as the moon is still out. We set sail before dawn in the direction of Cala Llonga. No-one feels like chatting at this time of the morning, and while the skipper steers the boat to the point he has chosen to cast the net and try his luck, the rest of the crew take the opportunity to lie down on the deck and rest. Scarcely half an hour after leaving the estuary, we arrive at our destination, only to find that the current prevents us from casting the net and so we have to try our luck somewhere else. The ‘Joven Antonio’ now heads for Tagomago, a trip that takes an hour, barely enough time to have a nap to counter the effects of the early start. We have no better luck here. By now, we’ve seen the breaking of a diffident dawn, rather overcast, but the temperature has been rising gently, and when the skipper makes for nearby Cala Boix, we are hardly feeling the cold at all.
The mood is livelier on the return trip, and the crew takes the opportunity to sort the fish.
Here, at last, the conditions are ideal for casting the net. Fishing for gerret is carried out using the artet or bolitx, a net with the traditional spread just like the kind used to fish from the beach. The net measures up to 300 metres, and is cast where the sea bed is sandy and flat, to a maximum depth of 30 metres. Once the net is cast, the vessel drops anchor so that it can gradually turn, a manoeuvre that takes about an hour and a half, and which nowadays, with the aid of hydraulic winches, can be performed by two men; not so long ago this operation needed the strength of big crews. The cast is not a great success, harvesting only around 150 kg of medium-sized gerret fish, and now the other llaüt, ‘El Deseo’, that ties up in Santa Eulalia, is going to try its luck. The skipper decides to try Tagomago again, but the sea conditions have not changed so ‘El Joven Antonio’ heads back to Santa Eulalia. The mood is livelier on the return trip, and the crew takes the opportunity to sort the fish and pack it in boxes to be taken to the market. Soon we can make out the green lighthouse that stands at the mouth of the port, a sight that never fails to cheer and which does so in proportion to the length of time the boat has been at sea.