Pesca Sin Muerte: Resurrecting Northern Spain’s
Atlantic Salmon

Typical Spanish imagery calls to mind Gaudi’s Barcelona, sun-drenched beaches along the Mediterranean, vibrant flamenco dancers and tapas in sidewalk cafes. But venture to the north, over the Cordillera Cantabrica and down into the strip of coastal land stretching from the Atlantic in the west to the French border in the east, and you enter an isolated region closed off by the Cordillera to the south and the Cantabrian Sea to the north. You find Basque country, that fiercely independent region with a language all its own; Galicia, whose people gave their name to Argentina’s Rio Gallegos; and Asturias, home to a good portion of the world’s southernmost population of Atlantic salmon. 

Those salmon are born in the Cordillera Cantabrica, where the rivers tumble down from alpine peaks through verdant valleys on their way to the Cantabrian Sea, at the southern end of the Bay of Biscay. Hemingway’s Jake Barnes, protagonist of A Sun Also Rises, apparently missed out. In the book he and his friend Bill Gorton spend several days fishing for trout on the Rio Irati, while just a bit farther west, in the direction that same sun sets, they could have been chasing salmon while they shot wine into their mouths from skins, rode the tops of crowded busses and struggled to escape the general malaise that had infected them in Paris and elsewhere. 

If Jake and Bill had made the trip, they would have wanted to bring their rain slickers. Asturias is a maritime region with a maritime climate. Yearly precipitation averages—in both amounts and days—are in most cases double what you’d find south of the Cordillera in cities such as Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia. Oviedo, the region’s main city, receives almost 38 inches of rain each year over the course of 122 days, a statistic that nearly mirrors that of another mild, wet and fishy place: Seattle. It’s the kind of rainy, mild climate that anadromous salmonids, from steelhead to Chinook salmon to Arctic char, seem to love. That’s also true of the Atlantic salmon that return here each year…  

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