As Spanish ‘peasant farmers of the sea’, groups of women dig for clams

LOURIZAN, Spain (AP) — They fan out in groups, mostly women, trudging in rain boots on the soggy, wet sand of the cove, making the most of the low tide.

Jostling with rakes and buckets, they chat and laugh merrily. They are clam fishers, or as they call themselves, “peasant farmers of the sea”.

Red-faced from coastal winds and hard work, they wear colorful scarves and ordinary home clothes, carving a picture-perfect oil painting landscape against the striking blue sky and wispy white clouds during the cool hours at dawn.

Collecting clams in the vast coves of Spain’s northwest region, Galicia, is a deep-rooted tradition, passed down from generation to generation.

“My mother made me become a shellfish collector,” says Mari Carmen Vázquez, 57, head of the Lourizan clam rowers’ collective. “There was no other future.”

In the past, the women of the village of Lourizan trawled the wet sands while their husbands went to sea, often for several months in a row.

Two very basic techniques are used: the first is to scrape off the pasty sand with a rake and bucket as many clams as possible. Other collectors don neoprene raincoats or river fishing gear and wade waist-deep in the cold waters further down the creek. They use a rake connected to a metal cage to scrape and sift sand from the seabed before hauling in the catch.

These diggers are allowed about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) total of two different types of clams each day. The tides and weather dictate when they can work, but there are also times when water contamination necessitates a ban on shellfish fishing. These days, they admit, clams of all types are much rarer, possibly due to climate change.

Collectors sell their catch at the city’s fish market from where it is distributed to fishmongers across the country before ending up as expensive food in restaurants and homes.

Clam fields are constantly replenished by sowing or planting clams that cannot be sold. Areas already harvested are cordoned off to allow them to recover, maintaining a cyclical and sustainable industry.

The women say that decades ago the work was much harder, with no protective clothing and no social security to cover periods of inactivity. Many of them couldn’t even swim.

“It was looked down upon. Nobody wanted to do it,” says Fátima Seoane, 52, who helped her mother and grandmother as a child. “People called us scavengers.”

These days, their jobs are regulated and they are guaranteed some sort of salary, giving them a measure of economic independence – so much so that there are waiting lists for permits that can take years to obtain.

Clam fishermen work about three hours a day for 15 or 16 days a month. On average, they bring in 100 euros ($107) per shift, depending on market prices.

“I wouldn’t trade this job for any other.” says Seoane. “It’s very comfortable, there are no bosses, we have our laughs, you work at your own pace and when you want to rest, you rest.”

Leave a Comment