Oceana has also called for a ban on the use of rockhopper gear, an artefact which, when attached to the underside of fishing gear, penetrates rocky and coralline ecosystems and causes serious damage.
The federations of Fishermen’s Associations of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country have written to the Ministry of Agriculture demanding the abolition of bottom trawling in the 12 miles of Spanish territorial waters in the North Atlantic, a request that Oceana has been making since 2003.
Ever since Oceana was established in Europe, this international organisation for the protection of the seas has been calling on European governments to ban bottom trawling on the continental shelf and in deep waters. Bottom trawling should be limited, with stringent restrictions, to continental slope waters where it has been demonstrated that there are no sensitive ecosystems which could be affected by this destructive fishing practice.
Oceana’s position with regard to Spanish territorial waters and rockhopper gear in all its guises has now been endorsed by the decision of the federations of Fishermen’s Associations of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country to demand that the Ministry of Agriculture abolish bottom trawling in all Spanish territorial waters in the North-East Atlantic and the Cantabrian Sea. At the same time, they are insisting on a ban on every possible version of rockhopper gear dreamt up by trawler owners to try to find a loophole.
In a letter sent on 8 March to Juan Carlos Martín Fragueiro, the General Secretary of Maritime Fisheries at the Ministry of Agriculture, the presidents of the federations of Fishermen’s Associations mentioned above argued that the artisanal fleet "is being left completely unprotected in its repeated accusations of trawlers encroaching on their fishing grounds and the loss of their fishing tackle" due to the activities of bottom trawlers in areas of territorial waters that have traditionally been the operating zones of the artisanal fleet.
The fishermen’s representatives refer in their letter to reports by the Spanish Institute of Oceanography which "puts a particular emphasis on the need to for an environmental focus on fisheries management, recommending an increase in efforts to protect marine habitats."
According to the federations of Fishermen’s Associations, "the protection of habitats is incompatible with a fishing technique which, leaving aside the selectivity factor, causes damage to sea beds and their animal and plant communities; damage which will take decades, and in the case of coral, centuries, to recover".
For this reason the fishermen are asking the Government to "completely abolish trawling, whatever the technique used, within the 12-mile limit (territorial waters) as the only way of protecting the ecosystems and the fisheries on which the artisanal fleet exclusively depends."
Oceanographer Xavier Pastor, the director of Oceana in Europe, has said: "This dovetailing of the opinions of fishermen, scientists and environmentalists is going to make it difficult from now on for anyone to dare classify requests for a ban on trawling as simply a radical gambit by our organisation".
According to Pastor, “the General Secretariat of Maritime Fisheries itself, fully aware of the damages that bottom trawling causes to the ecosystem, recently banned the use of this technique in the Mediterranean over seagrass beds, coralligenous communities and maërl beds”. These ecosystems effectively cover the first 100 metres of depth in the Mediterranean and in many cases the entire continental shelf. The General Secretariat of Fisheries’ decision was welcomed by the sectors affected by bottom trawling and by environmentalists, who have called for the measure to be extended to other European countries bordering the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coast.
“If, in this case, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries took heed of the request by the Fishermen’s Associations and Oceana, it would represent one of the greatest advances yet in recovering fishery stocks and endorsing responsible fishing”, said Xavier Pastor, and highlighted the poor state of stocks in certain areas such as the Cantabrian Sea and Galicia, where “stocks are in the worst possible state, as demonstrated by such emblematic species as hake, megrim, Norway lobster and anchovy”.
During the last few years, the alliance between artisanal fishermen and Oceana’s environmentalists has become consolidated on the basis that maintaining and recovering artisanal fishing, which is labour-intensive and generally uses selective fishing methods that allow sustainable management of ecosystems, is the only alternative to the use of destructive industrial fishing practices such as bottom trawling and driftnetting.
It is Oceana’s view that fishing subsides from the European Union, the Spanish government and the governments of the Autonomous Communities should be directed exclusively at empowering selective, artisanal fishing and to financing the scrapping of bottom trawlers.