The first thing you notice are the birds, hundreds of them circling in the distance. Then as you get closer, you see that you were wrong – there are THOUSANDS of birds! Nothing as ordinary as seagulls, these are big frigate birds, some with wingspans of five feet or more. As you continue down the hill on the new road to the Puerto Pesquero (fishing port) of Anconcito, you also see the flock contains pelicans, some so large you can scarcely believe that they can fly.
Recently my wife and I visited the new artisan fishing port complex in Anconcito with some Ecuadorian friends. Anconcito is a small village on the southern shore of the Santa Elena peninsula, just a short drive from our home in the resort city of Salinas. There has been fishing there as long as there has been a village, but we went to visit the new facility, part of an initiative by the Government to build 27 new docks along the Ecuadorian coast by the end of 2017.
It is a beautiful and impressive site. It is a modern working dock with a breakwater made of five floating pontoons, each almost 500 feet long, two large two-ton cranes with room for a third, and two 12,000-gallon tanks to provide fuel service for ships. There is easy access for sorting and loading the catch into trucks for transport to markets. Two ice factories make up to ten tons of ice a day for shipments, and gutting and preparation are all done in a new refrigerated warehouse.
But it has also been designed to provide a fish market, restaurants, and a Visitors Center to attract locals and tourists. An attractive facility with lots of parking enables visitors to shop for fish that are literally right off the boat. Under a sweeping roof for shade, as many as ten different vendors will help you select your fish, and will also filet it for you if you like. All of the stalls are clean and have running water, ice, and power to stay that way.
If you are not the cook it yourself type, there are also seventeen small restaurants offering fish, shrimp, crab, lobster, clams, octopus and squid, prepared in a variety of styles and cuisines.
We started off with a plate of patacones (plantains, sautéed lightly) while we waited for our meals to be prepared to order. I had a plate of large shrimp, grilled in garlic sauce and served with rice and some vegetables, while my wife opted for the shrimp omelet. Our friends had their personal favorites, Peruvian-style ceviches and a large filet of sea bass.
As we enjoyed our meals, we also enjoyed the scenery. Anconcito is a natural harbor surrounded by cliffs. Over 200 of the small blue and white artisanal fishing boats bobbed gently, many of them temporarily manned by resting pelicans. The frigate birds continued their aerial displays, and we watched fisherman cleaning and repairing their nets on the beach.
Before we left, we also took a look at the administrative building which houses the offices of the National Fisheries Institute, Under secretariat of Fisheries, Customs, a medical clinic, naval and police checkpoints, and an agency of the National Development Bank. According to the Institute, the new fishing port of Anconcito services over 600 fishing vessels of all types, and will soon be producing 3500 tons of seafood a year. As you can imagine, this will have a very positive effect on the local community, and not just from the economic boost.
“In the old days, we used to bring the fish on the beach, where we would gut them and clean them. It was all left on the beach, or thrown into the surf,” an agent in the administrative building told me. Now it is all done in a cool and clean building, with modern sanitation methods, so it is much better for the health of the residents, as well as the health of the seafood consumer.
We love seeing such progress being made in our adopted country, and on the way back home the main topic of conversation was what we should try for lunch the next time we visit Anconcito.