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The Spanish fishing sector, gathered at the I Technical Workshop of ‘Pesca España’ (Fisheries Spain) held in Vigo, Galicia, asked the EU Commission to reconsider its decision to close 87 fishing areas for bottom fishing in the waters of Spain, Portugal, France, and Ireland. The meeting aimed to assess the impact of the decision from different points of view, including scientific, political, or socioeconomic, as well as to review the direct and indirect impact that the measure will have on the various fleets of the Spanish geography and seek possible solutions.

The European Commission is wrong

According to ‘Pesca España’, the Implementing Regulation approved by the European Commission “established the closure of 87 fishing areas for bottom fishing in order, supposedly, to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems in the waters of Spain, Portugal, France, and Ireland”. However, after what was discussed at the meeting held in Vigo, the Spanish fishing sector unanimously considers that this decision does not take into account the best scientific information available, nor the serious socio-economic impact it entails.

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“After consulting with experts, the European Commission should recognize that it has made a mistake, reconsider its decision, backtrack and revise the affected areas to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems in areas where they actually exist and from gears that may have an impact on them”, said Javier Garat, president of ‘Pesca España’.

The I Technical Workshop of 'Pesca España' (Fisheries Spain) was held in Vigo, Galicia, Spain. Photo: Pesca España.
The I Technical Workshop of ‘Pesca España’ (Fisheries Spain) was held in Vigo, Galicia, Spain. Photo: Pesca España.

This is also the opinion of José Manuel González Irusta, senior scientist at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography – CSIC, who explained that “although the Implementing Regulation affects all bottom fishing gears, the scientific report was made taking into account only data from mobile gears, i.e. trawling, and not from static gears, such as bottom longline or gill nets”. The Spanish scientist highlighted the injustice this implies. “It makes no sense that the gears that have the least impact are the ones that are most affected”, he said. “It is essential that the European Commission only applies it to trawling fleets and that it does so in areas where vulnerable marine ecosystems are really identified”, he concluded.

Direct and indirect consequences

According to ‘Pesca España’, now is the time to analyze and see what the real impact of the measure is. “Although at first they are not seen, there are always consequences that are emerging and are relevant, because they affect stocks that are well managed and involve damage in other areas not covered by the measure”, said Edelmiro Ulloa, managing director of the Organization of Fresh Fish Producers of the Port of Vigo (OPPF-4), a participant in the conference and which represents, mainly, trawlers fishing in the Great Sole Bank.

The consequences are more evident in the North of Spain, specifically for the Galician fleet. In the case of Celeiro, one of the most relevant ports for hake catches, the measure could affect 2,000 jobs in a population of 15,000 inhabitants. “A reduction of hake catches in our 29 vessels is estimated at around 20% and conflicts are beginning to occur in the fishing grounds between the fleets of Spain and Ireland”, said Jesús Lourido, manager of the Organization of Fish Producers of the Port of Celeiro (OPP-77).

Another affected area is the Gulf of Cadiz, in southern Spain, where there is no bottom longline fleet, but there is a trawling fleet. “The closure of these areas with supposedly vulnerable marine ecosystems is going to affect our fleet specialized in catching Norway lobster and large shrimp”, said Alonso Abreu, president of Armadores Punta del Moral (OPP-80). “It will have a rebound effect and will impact, indirectly, on our fishing grounds, as a greater number of vessels will be concentrated in the same area, which will in turn affect the catch of the different species”, he explained.

Sustainability at the center of the debate

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At this I Technical Workshop of ‘Pesca España’, the Spanish fishing industry also wanted to make clear the concern and responsibility of the sector’s professionals for sustainability. “The most important thing is to seek a balance between everyone. We know that trawling is an art that has an impact on nature but, if it is done well and is controlled, the footprint is stable and has a counterpart that is sometimes overlooked: it provides us with a good, varied, and healthy product to feed the population”, said Ivan Lopez van der Veen, president of the European Bottom Fishing Alliance (EBFA).

Javier Garat, president of 'Pesca España' and Iván López van der Veen, resident of the European Bottom Fishing Alliance (EBFA). Photo: Pesca España.
Javier Garat, president of ‘Pesca España’ and Iván López van der Veen, resident of the European Bottom Fishing Alliance (EBFA). Photo: Pesca España.

“Unlike other sectors, fishing acts on a resource that is natural, but also renewable. Therefore, we are waiting for the review and consultations that should have been done before the measure was introduced. We must be optimistic and hope that the European Commission will reconsider and change its mind”, added Edelmiro Ulloa. More pessimistic was the manager of the Organization of Fisheries Producers of Lugo (OPP-7), Sergio Lopez, who, after filing the appeal to the European Court of Justice on December 13 in Luxembourg said that this is “a complicated and expensive process, but the real problem is the time, because the measure may mean that within three years there will be no bottom longliners in our country”.

Regarding the next steps, the president of ‘Pesca España’ explained that the report of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) is expected to be published in January, and that of the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STEFC) in March. This means that, possibly, the Implementing Regulation will not be revised until after the summer of 2023. Garat expressed concern in this regard. “The worrying thing is that, as long as it continues in its treachery and does not take a step back, the situation may worsen. Not only would the zones no longer be reduced, but they would be extended, which could have dire consequences for the Spanish fishing sector: an essential sector and a key economic engine for our country”, he said.

About ‘Pesca España’

Recently created, ‘Pesca España‘ is the Association of Spanish Fisheries Producers’ Organizations and is made up of some of the most important fisheries producers’ organizations in the country. Recognized by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the organization has been created to defend fishing for its national value as an economic engine and as a fundamental element of a healthy diet, claiming seafood products from sustainability, tradition, and happiness. In addition to positively communicating the value of the sector, its diversity, and its traditions, ‘Pesca España’ also seeks to promote the generational relay of this millenary tradition.

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