Heroes of Coasteering: Galicia’s Goose Barnacle Gatherers

On the northwest coast of Spain, along Galicia’s Costa de la Muerte (the “Coast of Death”) around Cape Finisterre, live some hardcore heroes of coasteering: the percebeiros, or goose barnacle gatherers.

 These fishermen only go out on the sorts of days when we’d have long-since cancelled sessions, and in places where we’d never consider coasteering. The shellfish that they seek are goose barnacles, a delicacy in Spanish restaurants that can cost as much as €100 per plate.  The largest and most valuable goose barnacles can only be found growing on the rocks of rocky offshore islands, just below sea level where strong tides and crashing surf deliver the nutrients that they grow fat on. Impossible to cultivate, the only way to collect these delicacies is for the fishermen to “coasteer” along the rocks of these remote offshore islands using a metal spatula called a biztonta to lever the crustaceans off the rocks and into their net bags.

It is an extremely dangerous occupation, but in this economically depressed corner of Spain the high prices fetched by goose barnacles are an attractive proposition to the region’s young men. They can only collect on spring low tides when the ocean is extremely calm, and even then the sea conditions around the exposed Cape Finisterre can be ferocious.

When we watched this short documentary film, we counted our blessings that here in Cornwall coasteering is a fun and exciting leisure activity enjoyed when the conditions are just right. For Galicia’s goose barnacle gatherers, their version of coasteering is a more serious and dangerous way to make a living. They have our utmost respect.