Sunday, June 13

Galician artisanal fishermen rebel against control of Brussels | Economy

Shellfish from the fishermen's association of A Illa de Arousa, during a working day in their small boats, with which they shell close to the coast.
Shellfish from the fishermen’s association of A Illa de Arousa, during a working day in their small boats, with which they shell close to the coast.ÓSCAR CORRAL

The beeps of a dozen boats thundered the great ports of Galicia on March 26 and May 14. The artisanal fishing sector protested those days against the new control regulation proposed by the European Commission. Two points in the document have caused friction: the obligation for all ships from four to 12 meters in length – the length from bow to stern – to carry a geolocation device and to notify all their catches in real time with an electronic journal. The new rule is far from coming into force, but it has already aroused fierce resistance to measures that, in the eyes of the brotherhoods, are unnecessary and a clear sign that the day-to-day activities of their workers are not known in Brussels offices. activity.

Clara Aguilera MEP, coordinator of the Social Democratic group in the Fisheries Commission, explains that the regulation, necessary to harmonize all forms of fisheries control, is eight years behind schedule. Aguilera assures that the fishing policy forces to design one because right now there is an unequal situation among the member states. “It does not make sense that those who work in fishing are discriminated against for being in one country or another,” he says, and warns: “There is a lot of interested political use, even in the Galician Government itself, to confuse the sector.”

José Antonio Pérez Sieira, president of the Galician Federation of Fishermen’s Confarians, does not feel disoriented. He is clear about what he wants: that the particularity of small-scale fishing in Galicia be recognized. The geography of the community, with deep estuaries, conditions the organization of the sector, which already feels constantly aggrieved by the lack of political will. Pérez Sieira explains that around 4,300 vessels will be affected by the new regulations. “We already have regulation, it is not that there is no control, but Spain is not the same as the other states of the European Union and Galicia is not the same as the rest of the country,” he concludes.

Around 1,000 artisanal fishing boats work in the Arousa estuary, the largest in the community, almost all with one or two crew members. Juan José Rial Millán is the senior patron of the A Illa de Arousa brotherhood (5,000 inhabitants) and explains that most shellfish boats admit a maximum of three people. The 54-year-old man has gone to sea since he was just over 10. He knows the sector perfectly: a short trip along the arm of the sea in the rural guard’s boat is enough to point out the workspaces of all the associations in the region, also visible from the Xufre dock, in the municipality of Pontevedra.

In the middle of the estuary, a few meters below the bridge that connects this island with the mainland and the rest of the region, a wooden hut floats surrounded by boats. It’s the checkpoint. Every morning the shellfishmen navigate to this point and record the start of their day by pasting a magnetic card, which they always carry with them, to the mobile held by an officer of the Rural Guard. Afterwards, they move to the work area next to the shore and at the end of the task they return to the shed to weigh, classify and digitally document the shellfish with their credential. The last filter is in the fish market, where the final product is screened.

A group of shellfish fishermen unload their catch in the port, after passing through the checkpoint and before doing a final screening at the fish market
A group of shellfish fishermen unload their catch in the port, after passing through the checkpoint and before doing a final screening at the fish marketÓSCAR CORRAL / EL PAÍS

Millán acknowledges that the Commission’s proposal is similar to the system used in Galicia today, but with an essential difference: the burden of “bureaucratic” tasks falls on the Galician brotherhoods and not on the workers. This is where the greatest opposition is set, according to Pérez Sieira, who explains that manipulating electronic devices in the middle of the job is complex: “We have rain, bad weather, we are wet … How are we going to do it in those conditions? We work in very small boats, without a wheelhouse, without electric light or battery. Pure artisanal fishing ”. In addition, the president adds that if they record the catches at sea, as the EU is proposing, they would be “lying”, due to the change in weight after small shellfish is withdrawn at the fish market or at the checkpoint.

Aguilera has an opposite view on the digital newspaper. The Socialist MEP advocates a “modernization” of the sector. However, he assures that the European Parliament has been willing to make an exception regarding the use of geolocators for Galician artisanal fishing. The spokesperson maintains that it is complex to fit these types of peculiarities because it is necessary to guarantee that these clauses work “only for very exceptional small cases and provided that it can be shown that the boats do not leave the estuary”, but “there is a will”.

The coastline of A Illa de Arousa, where Millán works, has a deep smell of clams. It is not surprising that it is such an important place for shellfish. The older skipper explains that a large part of the boats, almost all of 4 or 5 meters, are small family businesses. He himself has a son who is dedicated to the sector and two studying at the University, “but if they do not find work, they will always have the sea,” he says. The close bond of Galicians with their estuaries is, for the secretary of the federation of brotherhoods, Rita Gonzalez Sestelo, the most valuable element in the organization of fishing activity: “The brotherhoods belong to everyone and it is worth defending them. It is their way of life. Sometimes they don’t realize the importance of what they do ”.

There is time for this feat. As Carla Aguilera explains, the process is only in the second step. The European Parliament has reviewed the Commission proposal, and approved its amendments in March. Now the document is in the hands of the Council and, when it is finished, the three parties will have to determine the final agreement: “The entry into force of this regulation has been proposed for five years between approval and execution. There is time to do what it takes and for the sector to be ready for these changes, “he says.

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