Seeking a sustainable trawl fishery in Spain

Trawl fishing gear is perennially unpopular with environmentalist groups, but it doesn’t need to be, according to the industry in Spain. There are ways to use the gear in a manner that won’t destroy the environment, various fishing associations tell SeafoodSource.

The news and activities from some NGOs against trawl fishing are continuous. The protests have reached community authorities, who even suggested forbidding this gear. In July of 2012 the European Commission (CE) brought up the idea of banning bottom trawling. In the end the trawl fleet breathed a sigh of relief in December when the European Parliament (EP) achieved a balance and dropped the idea.

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki lit the fire of dissent with an article published over the summer in her blog under the headline “Pocket guide to your beach holidays.” In that article she gives some recommendations for eating sustainable fish, and among them, “avoid products coming for driftnet fishing and bottom trawling as they are non-selective fisheries. They catch a large number of unwanted or protected species. Bottom-trawling even seriously damages the bottom of the seabed and its ecosystem.”

How the sector address all of this

There are many voices that say that it isn’t a bad technique because it all depends on the use of it, and think a sustainable bottom trawling fishery is possible.

The Spanish Fishery Confederation (Cepesca) sent a letter to Damanaki in which they expressed their unhappiness with the article. They highlighted that she recommended not eating species caught by bottom-trawling fishing “knowing that it is a legal form of fishing, well regulated, sustainable, which is used in sandy bottoms, mud and silt and allows the fishing of many species which couldn’t be caught any other way.”

The President of the Shipowners´ Cooperative Fisheries of Puerto de Vigo, José Manuel Touza, welcomed the decision of the EU to not forbid this gear. “We understand that there aren’t good or bad techniques per se, but the important thing is the use and the management of each fishing technique.”

Touza goes one step further by saying he thinks that the trawling could be sustainable; he stoutly affirmed that “we understand that it is the only possibility.” And he pointed out “the trawler fleet is completely environmentally friendly. In fact, Spain is the paradigm of the marine resource protection, sponge fishing, corals… We have defined some areas in the North and South Atlantic, which are closed to trawler fishing.”

Nevertheless, the regulations don´t affect all fleets. So, Touza explained that there are some rules in Spain which only apply to Spanish vessels. “We understand the trawler fishing is not dispensable, the question is to do it well, and these types of measures that we have set for ourselves in Spain could spread worldwide.”

According to Touza “If we do not do a sustainable fishing and if there are not established this kind of measures of self-control, if we do not fight in order that we all work worldwide with the same rules of game, it is going to be very difficult to be able to supply this product to future generations.”

Regarding the awareness and the regulation that exists worldwide in this kind of art, Touza thinks the ezisting rules "are lagging regarding the level of exigency, especially, out of the EU, but the EU should give to it more importance."

According to data from Cepesca, the Spanish trawler fleet represents 12 percent of the national census with 1,038 vessels. It employs more than 8,000 people, which represents 22 percent of the workforce of the Spanish fishing fleets and it has a catch volume of 318,000 metric tons with a value higher than EUR 1 billion in first sale. That represents 33.4 percent of the total of Spanish catches and 50 percent of the commercial value.

Cepesca indicates that the prohibition of the trawler fishing would involve the disappearance in the fish markets of shrimps, nephrops and prawns among others, and it would make it very difficult to find anglerfish, megrim, sole, squids, turbot or plaice on the market.

As to whether the industry is afraid that in the future the CE will return to talks of forbidding this gear, Touza explained that "the word fear in the fishing is a concept that is practically excluded. If something characterizes the people of sea is for their valor, their fearlessness. Having said that, we don’t have fear, but what could worry us is that we cannot explain or visualize before the public opinion, the reality of our activity."


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