Biologists from the international conservation organisation, Oceana, are currently embarked on various Spanish longliners, taking part in a research project headed up by the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) in collaboration with Carbopesca, the association of ship-owners from the port of Carboneras (Almeria).
For around one year now, Oceana has been calling on the Spanish fisheries administration to put into action an experimental programme that will allow the level of accidental catches of sea turtles, sharks, rays and other non-targeted species to be determined, which get caught up on the hooks of the Spanish longline fleet involved in catching swordfish. At the same time, this programme should explore any possible modifications to fishing tackle that may result in reducing these accidental catches, while at the same time allowing for the recovery of the swordfish fishery, which is currently in a critical state.
Oceana has given the Spanish fisheries administration examples of fisheries in other parts of the world where modifications to the shape of the hooks has managed to lessen the mortality of sea turtles by reducing the frequency of accidental catches as well as the depth to which they swallow the hooks.
Oceana has proposed that similar investigations, aimed at establishing comparable rules for Spanish longliners, are carried out in Spain, given that this country has one of the largest fleets of this kind in the Mediterranean. The fleet catches between 20,000 and 30,000 sea turtles by accident each year, as well as tens of thousands of sharks and rays. Oceana asked the Spanish authorities to authorise their independent observers to be on board the fishing vessels on which they are currently carrying out these investigations.
The Spanish Institute of Oceanography has designed a research programme, financed with European funds, which, in Oceana’s opinion, contains all the elements necessary for making an accurate diagnosis of the situation and its possible solutions. In doing so, it has the collaboration of six longliners associated with Carbopesca which, over the course of six months, will be experimenting with different modifications to the longline tackle, including seven different kinds of hooks, different types of bait, different casting depths and other related research.
In response to Oceana’s requests, both the Spanish Institute of Oceanography and Carbopesca have accepted the presence of a limited number of Oceana observers on board the longliners.
The Oceana observers are working in collaboration with IEO scientists to gather information on the accidental catches made by these vessels and to see what impact the changes in hook shapes and other modifications to fishing tackle may have on these catches.
Oceana is calling for the results of this research to be made public as soon as they have been produced by the IEO researchers.
“For the first time, a non-governmental organisation is working side-by-side with a government organisation and the fishing sector of this country in the search for solutions to obvious environmental problems”, said oceanographer Xavier Pastor, the director of Oceana in Europe. “This is undoubtedly a very positive development, as the refusal to recognise the problems that affect marine ecosystems and the fishing sector is one of the reasons that prevents solutions being found for them”.
The participation of Oceana biologists in this project has been made possible thanks to the collaboration of CajaMadrid’s Social Work Project in the research programme of this non-governmental organisation.