The Oceana Ranger catamaran, which is currently engaged in a Transoceanic Expedition from the Pacific to the Mediterranean, will be arriving at these Atlantic islands tomorrow after having sailed for more than 9,000 miles.
The international organisation for the defence of the seas has called for the urgent declaration of the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands as a trawler-free zone.
Nine thousand miles after the Oceana Ranger catamaran left Los Angeles (USA), the members of the Transoceanic Expedition will tomorrow be arriving at the first European port of call on this long journey: Horta, on the island of Faial (the Azores archipelago). The seamounts of the Azores, and the threat that its sea beds may be opened up to bottom trawling, one of the most destructive fishing practices in the world, are the main reasons that have brought Oceana to these Atlantic islands.
Initially, the European Commission proposed opening up the sea beds of the Azores archipelago to trawling through Regulation No 1954/2003. However, once it had become aware of expert opinions and the marine wealth of this area, it promoted the creation of one of the largest areas closed to trawling in the world, including the waters of Madeira and the Canary Islands. The sea beds here have an abundance of deep-sea coral which is essential for the survival of hundreds of marine species, including those that sustain commercial fisheries such as red bream, orange roughy and golden eye perch.
Regrettably, although the Fisheries Ministers of the European Union agreed not to award catch quotas for bottom trawling in this area in 2005, they did not approve the permanent protection of its sea beds, which still leaves the seamounts faced with the threat that at any moment they may be opened up again to destructive fishing practices.
Oceana has appeared in the case against the European Commission for having permitted this situation to come about, and has called for the urgent declaration of the three archipelagos as a trawler-free zone.
Despite the fact that the Treaties and Agreements of the European Union recognise the right of its citizens to defend their environment, the Court of the First Instance of the European Communities aims to quash these rights, denying Oceana its participation in the action against the European administrations that are trying to open up the waters of the Azores to destructive fishing.
“The Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands have sustained traditional fishing fleets for centuries, which have not used bottom trawling techniques. Thanks to this, many of the sea beds are still in an excellent state of conservation and there is an abundance of certain species, which give us hope for the future. Opening up their waters to destructive fishing would therefore be a serious mistake”, declares Xavier Pastor, the Director of Oceana in Europe, from on board the Oceana Ranger.
The Azores have become a coveted fishing ground for fleets that have exhausted other Atlantic stocks and destroyed huge swathes of the sea bed. The reason why these trawlers now have their eyes on the Azores as a potential fishing zone is because of the presence of species such as orange roughy (Hoplostethus sp.), black scabbardfish (Aphanophus carbo), slickheads (Alepocephalus sp.) and other deep-sea species that have been overexploited in the fisheries developed during recent years in European waters.
The Euro-MP for the Azores, Paolo Casaca, is one of the main upholders of protecting the Atlantic islands against trawling.
Oceana has notified the politician of its intention to continue working to protect the archipelago and has invited him to visit the Oceana Ranger catamaran during its stay on the islands.