Wednesday, December 8

“If the shark is not killed, the fleet will be killed”: the veto on the trade in porbeagle puts Galician fishermen at war | Ecology | Climate and Environment


An observer measures porbeagle caught on a Galician longliner.
An observer measures porbeagle caught on a Galician longliner.OPP Burela

At least 90 tons of sharks are paralyzed in cold stores under customs control in different Galician ports, mainly that of Vigo. They cannot be marketed as a result of the suspension of authorizations to land and sell North Atlantic shortfin mako in 2021, a decision agreed in December at a meeting of the European scientific authorities of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This measure to protect this endangered shark has put the Galician longliner sector on the warpath, which does not accept the suspension of fishing and claims to release the now blocked catches, whose value now reaches close to one million euros , according to his calculations.

The marrajo dientuso the blue (Isurus oxyrinchus) is a shark classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), highly valued for its meat and, above all, its fins. It is not very common to see this species in the fish markets or Spanish fishmongers, however, the Galician fleet is the one that makes the most catches of this animal in the North Atlantic, which represents 90% of those made throughout Europe (the other 10% corresponds to Portugal).

“They say that we have finished with the blue shark, but the truth is that there has never been as much fishing as in recent years, which is a contradiction,” complains José, a 64-year-old Galician fisherman enrolled in longline boats since the 14. “Regulating fishing is not prohibiting, and if the shark is not killed, the fleet will be killed, a solution that will be ruinous,” he laments.

The truth is that, as recently warned by the scientific magazine Nature, Sharks are one of the species most decimated by overfishing in the oceans, as these predators usually have a long life, but they reproduce much less than other smaller marine animals. In the case of shortfin mako, concern over some of its populations, such as those in the North Atlantic, led to the species being included in December 2019 in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, therefore you need a CITES permit to be able to trade it.

Until now, Galician longliners fishing for swordfish and blue shark could sell a certain quota (350 tonnes in 2020) of porbeagle obtained in accidental catches when they appeared dead hooked on hooks. However, at the meeting last December of the scientific authorities of the CITES Convention of the different European countries, it was approved to suspend the authorizations for the landings of this species throughout 2021 (hoping that the fishermen lose interest in the areas with the greatest presence of porbeagle). ), provoking the ire of a fishing sector badly hit by the pandemic, due to the closure of the hotel industry.

The situation becomes bizarre when a subsequent meeting of the European Fisheries Ministers approves a quota of 500 tonnes for the North Atlantic, without taking into account the decision taken a few days before within the CITES Convention.

Uncoordination problem

“There is a problem of lack of coordination with the fishing regulations between the Ministry of Fisheries and Ecological Transition,” says Sergio López, manager of the Lugo Producers Organization. “The fleet is complying with the ICCAT (International Organization that regulates the fishing of these species in the Atlantic) standards, but the Ministry for the Ecological Transition does not allow their commercialization because it considers that it must put other caps different from those of Fishing. Faced with this lack of coordination, we have paralyzed catches for 2020 and there are different interpretations for 2021 ”, he adds.

For its part, the Ministry for Ecological Transition ensures that the suspension of catches is not its decision, but rather that of all the CITES scientific authorities of the EU. “For now that is the decision that all the countries of the Union are obliged to comply with,” says Teresa Ribera’s department, who explains that the case will be reviewed at a new CITES meeting, although most European countries have no interests. fisheries and are more in favor of protecting sharks.

If the other European countries do not back down, the Ministry for Ecological Transition considers that in 2021 it will not be possible to catch porbeagle in international waters, where the CITES criterion is imposed, a situation that could further harm the species, given that the smallest specimens are in the closest areas and many more specimens could be caught up to the quota approved by the Ministers of Fisheries.

As for the nearly 90 tons of porbeagle blocked in the cold stores of the Galician ports, this department considers that the exit is not easy, since it understands that the 2020 quota was exceeded and at the moment there is no one for 2021.

The most important port for unloading is Vigo and the shipowners are grouped into the four most powerful associations located in Burela (Lugo) and A Guardia, Marín and Vigo (Pontevedra). The sector is very fragmented because they are family businesses that only operate one vessel. “The catches have not been excessive, they are within the recommendations of ICCAT and the Ministry of Fisheries,” the shipowners insist in a statement. “What MITERD has established [Ministerio para la Transición Ecológica y el Reto Demográfico] it is a much lower quota for international trade without consensus or informing the fleet ”. “What we cannot do is receive written regulations from Fisheries (which we comply with) and MITERD establish limits without communicating them to the organizations,” they criticize.

Gonzalo Mucientes, a biologist at the Vigo Marine Research Institute belonging to the CSIC and the FOOD from the University of Porto (Portugal), affirms that additional measures are necessary such as the delimitation of marine protected areas on the high seas that preserve hot spots for porbeagle. This expert assures that “most likely the measures arrive quite late and, surely, the problem could have been addressed much earlier to correct it with less drastic measures” for the fishing sector.

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