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Working Toward a Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries Solution in Spain

Monday, June 12, 2017
Xiao Recio-Blanco

Xiao Recio-Blanco

Director, Ocean Program

In my last blog, I wrote about ACERGA’s lawsuit against the government of Spain over the current criteria for fisheries quota distribution. In addition to the lawsuit, in late March 2017, ACERGA, in cooperation with the Universidade da Coruña (UDC) Law School, organized a conference to bring together government representatives, fishers, and fishing policy experts to discuss the problems with and propose solutions to the current quota distribution system and purse-seine fishing. Purse-seine fishing uses large nets dragged behind a boat to catch fish, particularly those that swim in large and tightly ­­­packed schools.

The EU held is First Conference on Fishing Quotas and the Purse-seine sector.
In March 2017, UDC held its First Conference on Fishing Quotas and the Purse-seine sector.

I was invited to join a panel that included UDC Law School Professor Rodriguez-Arana, as well as representatives from the Galician and Spanish governments. There was an odd and remarkable combination of long-time skippers and freshmen law students in the audience. Luckily for me, my intervention was the least controversial of the day: I was there as an international scholar specialized in fisheries management, speaking about potential international models on the implementation of fishing quota systems. In summarizing the problem, Prof. Rodriguez-Arana explained the reasons why, in his view, the Spanish Decrees establishing quota distributions were at odds with the Spanish and European legal frameworks: the Common Fisheries Policy established the need for a balance between environmental, social, and economic factors, and that the reliance on historic landings per vessel was not proportional.

At the conference, several solutions, including my own, were discussed. I spoke about potential international models that could be applied to Spain’s fishing quota system. I suggested that transparency, close cooperation between fishers and authorities, and co-management models were positive approaches towards long-term sustainable fishing.

My recommendation proved to be more controversial than I had expected. Rafael Centenera, a representative from the central Spanish government, replied that Spain was not in need of seeking international success examples because they already enjoyed a fantastic cooperation with the fisheries sector. However, when questioned about the possibility of working with the fishers to review Spain’s criteria for quota distribution, he replied that they would only modify the criteria if the courts forced them to do so. Centenera’s statements were further brought into question when ACERGA attorney Jorge Bujan rebutted that there had not been a full-range, inclusive meeting with the fisheries sector on the quota distribution at least since 2012. The generalized murmuring in the audience was also an indication that the level of cooperation between users and authorities might not be as ideal as stated.

It is clear from meetings like these that policymakers should take advantage of this situation to work towards better cooperation between authorities and fishers on data-gathering, fisheries management, and law enforcement.

Figure 2 Fishing gear and boxes onboard an ACERGA purse-seiner docked at the Port of O Freixo (A Coruña).
Fishing gear and boxes onboard an ACERGA purse-seiner
docked at the Port of O Freixo (A Coruña).

Despite these differences in opinion, the Conference was a substantial step in the right direction. ACERGA had achieved their objective of discussing the problems of quota distribution with relevant members of the government, and government representatives had had the chance to provide their insights and let their voice be heard by the fishers without intermediaries or interpretations. And once the session ended, everyone got together for a meal during which – of course – fish was the main course.

After having participated in the conference, it seems clear to me that the regulatory process for quota setting in the EU needs to be more flexible and able to involve and empower fishers and their organizational groups. It is clear that it will not be possible to have win-win situations in all cases (if you are interested on non-zero sum games and its relationship to environmental regulation be sure to check this article published by the Environmental Law Reporter). Complaints about absence of dialogue, lack of transparency, and the high influence of certain lobbies should be taken seriously and any issues remedied promptly. Lack of clarity on how que quota systems is designed and implemented deeply affects the communities’ view on the importance of scientific data, and undermines the catch-share system itself. There is much to be gained through active cooperation and close partnership between civil servants, government officers, the scientific community at large, and the fishers that go out to sea every day.

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