My name is Celia Ojeda Martinez, an oceans campaigner here in Greenpeace Spain. One of the things we are trying to do here in Spain is change the domestic fishing industry, especially in terms of the backwards role Spain’s fishing barons have in influencing policy- including the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy. Just last week, we took action, confronting some of the most destructive fishing vessels in Spain- deep-sea bottom trawlers- in port in Vigo.
Here in Spain, deep-sea bottom trawling represents less than 6% of onboard employment (the jobs on fishing vessels) in Spain’s fishing sector. Based on 2008 Eurostat figures, the employment numbers follow the overall trends in Spain- a decline. However, small-scale fishing, meaning fishing using boats smaller than 12 feet long, represents 28.35% of employment, much more significant to the Spanish economy than the destructive vessels against which we took action last week.
Deep-sea bottom trawling fishing accounts for less than 1% of all of Spain’s fishing, whereas small-scale artisanal fishing make up roughly 80% of Spanish fisheries. There are, of course, a wide array of facts and figures out there about Spanish fisheries, namely because the large-scale fishing industry can afford to commission studies on what jobs they provide- often with the help of government subsidies. However, this is now changing and many scientists and universities are aware of just how important the artisanal fishing sector is and are beginning to trumpet the economic importance of artisanal fishing that is sustainable in the long-term.
Fishing capacity must be reduced on all fronts, large-scale and small-scale vessels, because together, fishing operations take many fish and such aggressive fishing does not leave fish populations time to recover. Governments must take action now to put in place the solutions necessary to alleviate the economic impacts of fishing effort reduction: including conversion of large-scale fishing effort to smaller, more sustainable fishing operations and encouraging fishing tourism. The other option, of course, is to fish until the very last fish is taken from the farthest corner of our oceans. And when those fish are gone, not only will we have even longer unemployment lines, but we’ll also have empty oceans- the impacts of which we do not yet understand.
The Spanish deep-sea bottom trawling fleet, only 1% of Spain’s fishing fleet, received 142 million euros between 1996 and 2010. This figure comes from the Official State Bulletin and from regional government documents, in which you can find information about every boat, fishing business and trade association receiving government subsidies. Many new boats were indeed built using loopholes in subsidies regulations and it now seems that these funds are also used to decommission these boats. A royal decree was made public on 7 October that would give the Spanish distant water fishing fleet operating in international waters 28 million euros. Just think of the many other places that this money could have here in Spain.
The Spanish government conducts many fisheries research projects and many of course are good. Spanish fisheries scientists are among the best in the world, often spending months at sea measuring, weighing and studying fish populations and evaluating the impacts of fisheries on the ocean environment. Not one of these studies says that the ocean environment is not being impacted. Scientists have only been able to study only .001% of the seabed- where trawling nets are dragged- and they have certainly not given reckless bottom trawling their endorsement. In fact, most studies include a paragraph saying that more studies are needed if we want exact conclusions. What we need- and what Greenpeace is demanding- is a precautionary approach- which would mean an end to bottom trawling fisheries, until scientists can understand and evaluate their impacts.
Deep sea bottom trawling of course has many other impacts- discards of bycatch, its role in the destruction of fish populations and other elements of the ocean environment. One has to stop and think- what’s the point of all of this senseless destruction, we have to use precaution and reduce overfishing until we can understand what it is doing to our oceans and how we can reverse the disastrous impacts it is causing.
Celia Ojeda Martínez is an oceans campaigner based in the Madrid office of Greenpeace Spain.