The European Commission (EC) reiterated on Thursday that the ban on bottom fishing in 87 areas of the Northeast Atlantic was always intended to be applied at depths of more than 400 metres and nothing has changed at Spain’s request, as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Luis Planas, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and the Environment of Spain, stated on Thursday.
In his statements prior to this EC announcement, Planas pointed out that the European Commission has rectified its position and will allow trawling up to 400 metres deep in 87 Atlantic fishing grounds where it had decided to veto it in order to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems.
This means, Planas boasted, that in practice, all Spanish trawlers will be able to continue fishing from 9 October, when the ban on bottom fishing comes into force, in the same 41 areas in which they have been doing so until now.
The minister described the decision as “very good news” for the Spanish fleet, although in reality nothing has changed and Spain has not achieved any improvement on the fisheries agreement, which does affect other fishing grounds or fishing gear such as longlining.
Brussels has thus amended the Spanish minister’s position. EU sources stressed to Efe that “nothing has changed” in the regulation and that the veto “never applied above 400 metres”. “But the closure applies below 400 metres in all areas,” they added.
They insisted that there are no changes to the regulation and said that “in recent exchanges”, the Commission “has simply clarified the text once again to Spain and other affected member states”, referring to the fact that from 9 October, when the veto will come into force, the 87 areas at depths of more than 400 metres will be closed to bottom fishing.
On 15 September, when the European Commission announced the decision to close 87 sensitive areas in EU waters in the north-east Atlantic to bottom fishing, it indicated that the measure would affect depths of between 400 and 800 metres.
The fisheries sector has even congratulated the ‘deceit’ of Minister Planas
The fishing sector has reacted this Thursday with satisfaction but with doubts to the announcement by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Luis Planas, that the European Commission has rectified – something that the EC assures us has not been the case – and will allow trawling in depths ranging from 0 to 400 metres in the 87 Atlantic polygons that are the object of the implementing regulation on vulnerable marine ecosystems.
“Unfortunately we cannot make a diagnosis because there are still many doubts and gaps when it comes to knowing how and where this regulation is applied, and I say this with tremendous joy at the words of the minister, but the uncertainties are still there,” said Iván López Van der Veen, general manager of the shipowner Áncora and president of the European Trawling Alliance before learning of the EC’s correction to Minister Planas.
“We still have doubts about how this is going to be applied. In Spain it seems quite clear but there are three other countries and the Spanish fleet operates in those countries,” he added, referring to Ireland, France and Portugal.
With this rectification, which is not such, because in practice all Spanish trawlers could continue to fish from the 9th, when the ban on bottom fishing comes into force, in the same 41 areas in which they had been doing so until now from the beginning and without the mediation of Minister Planas to improve the agreement,” he said.
But for Van der Venn, who made these statements before the clarifications to Minister Planas, this step taken by the Commission in the last few hours shows that “the rule is a “botched job”, as is the fact that it is communicated three days before the regulation comes into force.
“The biggest relief is above all for coastal vessels. We remember that there are many closures in Spain that are very close to the coast, affecting ships that go and return during the day, both in the Gulf of Cadiz and on the Cantabrian coast. Those ships have many affected areas where the bottoms are in the 0 to 400 metre range. These people will have immediate relief, and that is important,” he continued, always bearing in mind that the ban was going to affect these fishing grounds.
However, he added, there are still areas below 400 metres, where “the most productive species for Christmas”, such as sea bream, “live.
Does this solve the problem?
“No. For the trawling fleet it is a shot in the arm because they tend to operate on the beach, at shallower depths, because they are banned from fishing at deeper depths,” said Javier Touza, president of the Vigo Port Shipowners’ Cooperative (ARVI),
“We hope that the presentation of the appeal can also lead to the suspension of the application of the regulation”, added Touza, according to whom “the dignity of the sector itself is at stake”.
Touza welcomed the unity that has been generated in the sector, among the autonomous communities affected and among the different administrations in opposition to the Commission’s regulation, which he criticised for taking such far-reaching decisions based solely on environmental criteria, ignoring economic and social criteria.
For Touza, what has happened is “an acknowledgement by the Commission itself that it did not do its homework properly”, and he has asked people to join the fishing sector demonstration called on Saturday in the Town Hall square in Ribeira (A Coruña) against a regulation which, despite Planas’ announcement today that it does not change anything of what had been agreed, according to the EC, seriously affects other fishing gear such as longlining.