If the problem of declining catches can be solved, Catalan salters remain hopeful that their anchovy industry will yet survive. There are some signs their optimism may not be misplaced: l’Escala and Collioure have both received legal originof- product denominations—akin to the Roquefort name on cheese or the appellation of a wine—so consumers will know when they’re buying anchovies certified as having been cured in the two towns. Perhaps, local boosters say, the official labeling will help differentiate their plump, rosy fish from cheaper ones with less flavor prepared elsewhere, and will carve a small niche in the lucrative market for gourmet goods. Younger chefs in both Spain and France are dreaming up new ways to use this ancient product, and big names like Ferran Adrià have stepped up to help with marketing it.
For Robert Desclaux, owner of a 102-year-old Collioure salting house, any effort on behalf of the local anchovy is worth it. At age 77, Desclaux is old enough to remember the graceful catalans gliding by night out of the harbor, past the town’s signature bell tower, and the wicker baskets brimming with anchovies being sold on the beach after the boats returned in the morning. “Those times are gone,” he says matter- of-factly. “But with work and some luck, I think our anchovies will survive.” You don’t have to love the little salted fish to hope he’s right.