Prior to the meeting of French and Spanish fisheries authorities tomorrow to discuss the crisis facing the shallow-water fishing fleets.
The international organisation is also proposing that sanctions are imposed on governments, such as the Spanish and French, which are unable to manage their fisheries properly.
Oceana is asking France and Spain to listen to the petitions of the shallow-water fleet in the Cantabrian Sea to close the anchovy fishery for as long as it takes to allow the species to recover, and to provide aid to the people affected during this time.
At present, in order for fishermen to receive European Aid if a fishery closes, the anchovy would have to be placed under a Recovery Plan. Any kind of temporary close season, such as the 45 days proposed by the Secretary General for Fisheries, Juan Carlos Martin Fragueiro, would be regarded as a unilateral initiative outside the agreements of the European Union Common Fisheries Policy, and would not allow the recovery of the anchovy. In addition, in order for the Recovery Plan to work, it would be necessary for France and Spain to come to an agreement, and would also entail strict monitoring of the measures agreed by Brussels and scientists.
Oceana, the marine organisation dedicated to the research, protection and recovery of the seas, had already issued warnings about the poor state of the anchovy fishery in the Cantabrian Sea, and had asked for heavy cutbacks to be made to catches.
According to Oceana’s analysis, the measures that should be approved immediately include:
“Europe cannot make the mistake of losing the fleets that still use traditional, selective fishing methods. Oceana has been recommending the Commission to approve a plan that supports the traditional shallow-water fleets”, says Xavier Pastor, the Director of Oceana in Europe.
But Oceana does not want the poor decisions made by governments in terms of fisheries management to remain unpunished. Pastor accuses the French and Spanish administrations of having caused this crisis due to repeatedly ignoring warnings and reports from experts, including those at Oceana itself. “European citizens should not constantly be having to pay for the mistakes made by politicians who allow destructive fishing practices to continue and award much higher fishing quotas than those recommended by experts”, adds Oceana’s European Director.
At the end of last year, the Commission proposed making cutbacks to the 2005 anchovy catch quotas to prevent the species’ overexploitation and allow the stock to recover, but the Spanish and French governments rejected the proposal and asked for quotas six times higher than those recommended by scientists. Now, both governments intend to pass the “hot potato” to the European Commission, which will have to decide whether to help the affected fleets despite the fact that the catch quotas were awarded against their judgement.
Regrettably, the Commission does not have any kind of system in place to sanction countries who manage fisheries badly. Oceana believes that this kind of measure should be approved in order to prevent new collapses from occurring.
“Every year, debates on EU catches turn into a kind of auction in which governments try to achieve the highest possible quotas even though these are totally excessive and go against any kind of scientific recommendations. Later, when the fisheries collapse, they go back to Brussels asking for aid which every European citizen has to pay for, just to rectify their mistakes”, asserts Ricardo Aguilar, Oceana’s Director of Research and Projects in Europe.
In statements to the media last December, when the catch quotas were awarded, the Spanish Fisheries Minister, Elena Espinosa, had the gall to publicly assert that the scientific reports that had led the European Commission to propose cutbacks in anchovy quotas did not reflect the realities of the fisheries. In an interview broadcast by Punto Radio, which was also picked up by the Europa Press agency, she said that France and Spain were in possession of other scientific reports “that demonstrate that the fishery is not in such a state that it needs such drastic reductions to be implemented”.
Oceana believes that the Commission should equip itself with systems to impose harsh sanctions on countries which, while ignoring scientific and technical advice, something that has obviously happened in the Spanish case, continue to encourage overexploitation. Governments have got to start assuming their responsibilities and stop playing around so thoughtlessly with the environment, fisheries resources, jobs and the money of the European people.