DURRËS, (Albania), April 3 — Businesses worldwide have gone dark under coronavirus shutdowns, but in Albania, the anchovy trade is booming as demand for the tinned delicacy surges among European households.
In the port of Durres, on Albania’s Adriatic coast, around 50 women covered from head to toe in face masks, gloves and purple coats pack the salted fish for shipment to Italy and Spain, the countries hardest-hit by Covid-19.
Working swiftly and meticulously, they wash cured anchovies, dry them and remove bones from fillets that then go into tins or vacuum-packed sleeves.
The Nettuno factory has been forced to reduce staff to respect social distancing measures in Albania, which has been under lockdown for weeks in hopes stemming the number of Covid-19 deaths, which now stand at 16.
And yet the factory is trying to ramp up output to meet demand for the canned fish among Europeans hunkered down under coronavirus quarantines.
Before the pandemic, the factory exported more than 25,000 kilos of canned anchovies per month to Italy and Spain.
Today, orders are up 30 per cent to “34,000 kilos per month,” said Orlando Salvatore, the Italian owner of Nettuno, one of a dozen companies in the sector.
He says the craze is driven by Italian and Spanish families using pantry items to spice up home cooking.
“The anchovy has gained even more value because people who are in confinement are making pizza at home, which has greatly increased sales,” he said.
Paid by the kilo
Salvatore says he plans to open in May another factory in Albania — the third biggest anchovies exporter to the EU last year — that will double production.
The fish they are processing now were caught in 2019.
This year’s fishing season starts in April, and is likely to be disrupted by coronavirus restrictions.
In the meantime, factory staff are tired but relieved to still have jobs when many others are losing income.
Roughly 30,000 companies have been forced to close in the poor Balkan state due to coronavirus measures, and many families don’t have savings to live on.
“We are happy that the anchovies we produce here go to Europe, to Spain, to France, and that sales are good despite this difficult period,” says Landa Tabaku, a worker in her forties.
Anchovy processors are paid €1.5 (US$1.62) for each kilo they package.
For Tabaku, that comes to about €30 a day. — AFP