An Epicurean devastation of marine life

An Epicurean devastation of marine life

As many Greeks give up certain foods – and eat a lot more seafood – in the runup to Easter next month, a study by the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation found that some 80 percent of seafood restaurants in Greece either serve or allow customers to place advance orders for protected species that are considered culinary delicacies, such as date mussels, fan mussels and Triton's trumpets, but also fish and shrimp that have not reached maturity.

“Unbeknownst to them, of course, we surveyed 70 well-known restaurants. Unfortunately we didn't have to go to any great lengths to confirm our fears. Most have such species on their menu and even advertise the fact online, boasting, for example, of their steamed date mussels with truffle oil,” said Anastasia Miliou, head of research at Archipelagos. “With the others, it was just a matter of a simple phone call.”

Miliou cited the example of one of the restaurants telephoned by a researcher, who asked to book a table for a party of 20 people and requested endangered species such as those mentioned above. “They said that our order could be met promptly, suggesting that there is an illegal fishing network that can supply restaurants with little delay,” noted Miliou.

Archipelagos also identified more than 100 businesses that promise delivery of protected species of shellfish direct to consumers' homes. “A few took down their online advertisement after we raised a stink, but the problem is still there,” she explained.

According to the institute, Greece's seas are home to increasingly precarious populations of endangered species, but perhaps not for much longer as the damage being done by illegal fishing is incalculable. Date mussels, for example, live deep inside crevices, and harvesting them usually involves using hammers or even jackhammers to break the rock to expose the shellfish, while also wreaking untold damage on the coastal ecosystem. What it boils down to is destroying the breeding ground of a species that takes over 50 years to reach a size suitable for consumption so that some people can enjoy a culinary treat.

Shrimp populations are also being desiccated by demand for very small shrimp, which are often passed off in tavernas as Symi shrimp. “This destroys future generations and the onus lies with the consumer as much as the fishermen and the restaurateur,” said Miliou.

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