Less fishing for the European fleet

Fishermen have come to fear bureaucratic storms on land more than storms on the high seas. With these words, Javier Garat, general secretary of the Spanish Fisheries Confederation (Cepesca) summarizes one of the fishermen's demands. The sector, from shipowners to brotherhoods, wanted to join its voice in view of the holding of elections in Europe at the beginning of June. The Cepesca employers' association affirms that “the next European executive will have to clarify once and for all what type of primary sector he wants.” They refer specifically to environmental policies and affirm that with them Europe is putting its sovereignty at stake by placing its capacity to feed its citizens on imports (already 70% of the fish consumed in the EU comes from abroad) which often They do not meet the same standards and demands. «We have joined the agricultural and livestock sectors because we are in a similar situation. The Commission has completely forgotten the social situation of fishing and they are leading us to an unbearable situation with rules that are impossible to comply with, such as, for example, the ban on discards of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) that forces fishermen to land all their fish. caught on every outing, something impossible for multispecies fishermen,” says Garat.

These months prior to the election, Europe is debating whether it is necessary to reform the Common Fisheries Policy – ​​a rule that has not been renewed as such in the last decade, but to which parallel regulations have been added. It is one of the requests launched at the beginning of the year by the European People's Party (EPP), which also asks to take the opportunity to review the Commission's entire environmental strategy.

Zone restrictions

The fishing sector refers specifically to laws such as the recent closure of 87 areas of the Northeast Atlantic that was approved at the end of 2022. “The regulation was made against bottom trawling, but in the end it does not distinguish between fishing gear and affects, above all, gear such as longlining (which is wreaking havoc on the Galician fleet) or gillnetting,” says Garat. Another of the sector's complaints has to do with the Multiannual Plan for demersal fish populations (hake, mullet, red shrimp, deep-sea shrimp, Moorish prawn and crayfish) in the Mediterranean; a law designed to recover the Mare Nostrum populations (it was approved in 2019 as a complement to the CFP and ends at the end of the year).

But what species does our fleet fish, in what waters and how are the populations? In the Atlantic, hake, roosterfish and monkfish are fished in the Gran Sol area (Ireland and the United Kingdom). In the case of Spanish waters, in the Northeast Cantabrian Sea and in the Gulf of Cádiz, prawns and shrimp must be added. « In general, fish stocks in the Atlantic are in good condition, because quotas were set years ago that are based on the so-called Maximum Sustainable Yield (CFP basis). “Ministers establish annual catch limits for fish stocks of commercial interest,” says Alberto Martín, head of Fisheries for Spain and Portugal at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC is a non-profit organization that sets a standard for fishing. sustainable). For 2024, in fact, the catch limits for rooster (11%) and monkfish (7%) in Iberian waters or for hake in the Bay of Biscay and Azores waters (10%) have been increased, among others. However, the limits have been reduced in the case of Norway lobster to 20% in Portuguese and Azores waters and of sunfish to 20% in Iberian waters. In the case of the eel, which is in a critical situation, the six-month ban and the prohibition of recreational fishing are maintained.

In the Mediterranean, fishing reductions were established as of 2019 within the Multiannual Plan, but quotas or maximum catches per species were not established, but rather the days that can be fished were limited (except for a few species that have a quota). such as Black Sea turbot). This is because, in general, the fishing carried out in this sea is multispecies. This is what is called reducing the effort and at the end of this year it could reach a 40% reduction in fishing days or remain at 34% if complementary measures are approved that minimize the impacts of bottom trawling, such as, for example , put flying doors in the networks or increase the mesh. «It has meant that in three years the days to be able to work have been cut by 34% and this year this figure may increase. This means that there are ships that only leave 120 days a year, compared to 250 before. That is putting some in an extreme situation and there are fishermen who want to scrap their boats,” says Garat from the employers' association. «When it was approved it was because something had to be done to improve the situation of the species. Even so, it was a limited solution, although the introduction of other forms of fishing that improve the selectivity of the species and even exclude certain inappropriate sizes is being considered. In addition, compensation is set for fishermen who use less harmful techniques. In any case, it must be said that the mentality of the fishing sector has changed because the first people interested in having the stocks in good condition are them,” explains Julio Agujetas, also an MSC technician. The organization is participating next week with an event parallel to the UNESCO Conference of the Ocean Decade that is being held in Barcelona and which will discuss, among others, conservation and fisheries management.

The results of these policies are beginning to be seen. According to UN data, the percentage of overexploited fish stocks in the Mediterranean and Black Sea has fallen below 60% for the first time, following a downward trend that began a decade ago. However, the difference in the level of development of the different countries in the north and south of this sea means that fisheries management and control systems are not the same and some apply more lax measures. To this end, the General Mediterranean Fisheries Commission, created within the UN in 1949, in which all countries with access to the Mediterranean participate, recently agreed on measures to increase the protection of biodiversity and improve the traceability of products to combat illegal fishing, for example, of red coral.


One of the usual points of controversy between environmental organizations, legislators and the fishing sector has to do with bottom trawling. In fact, Conservative MEPs have also requested a review of the Action Plan for the Protection and Restoration of Marine Ecosystems for Sustainable Fisheries presented last year which calls for a ban on bottom trawling in Marine Areas. Protected (MPA) by 2030. «One of the main threats to the activity of the sector is the increase of MPAs from 12% to 30% in EU waters and the elimination of trawling in all by 2030. Inside Of the Spanish fleet, 884 boats practice this type of fishing,” they say from Cepesca. “At MSC we think that we should not demonize any fishing gear, but rather take into account the impact that each one has and establish measures for each one,” Martin clarifies. Spain currently has 10% of its seas protected and the objective of protecting 30% in 2030.

Illegal catches

At the beginning of this year, the Global Fishing Watch organization published a paper in the journal Nature in which it states that up to three quarters of the industrial fishing vessels that circulate around the world do not have any public monitoring, either because they turn off the locator or because They don't directly have it. The team analyzed 2,000 terabytes of satellite images from 2017 to 2021, in an area that corresponds to more than 15% of the world's oceans and in which more than 75% of industrial activity occurs. Taking into account that Europe imports 70% of the seafood it consumes, improving controls seems necessary. Thus, in the EU there has been a regulation since 2007 to combat illegal fishing that in theory classifies vessels by origin and imposes sanctions. Around 10 countries such as Trinidad and Tobago are excluded from the European market due to lack of control, others such as Vietnam have a yellow card while applying their own techniques to control illegal fishing and others such as China have a relationship with Europe full of lights and shades. China's share of global catches has increased from 5% to 15% since the 1980s and as of 2019, half of the vessels engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing were Chinese, according to a report of 2022 requested by the Fisheries Committee (PECH). «It is curious because in the case of tuna a lot of loin of Chinese origin is detected. And in Europe there is a formula that allows up to 90,000 tons of fish from third countries to enter the EU without tariffs,” explains Javier Garat from Cepesca.