The fishermen of Tenerife They denounce that the distribution of the tuna quota condemns the fleet to mooring. The Provincial Federation, which brings together the ten Brotherhoods that exist in Tenerife, censures “that those who plunder resources are rewarded with the highest percentage”; that is to say, the industrial purse-seine vessels, and “condemn to disappear” our “responsible and sustainable” artisanal fishing.
Tenerife’s fishing sector rebels against a dark present and a future that is presumed even darker. Currently, it is going through one of the worst moments of the last decades. The multipurpose tuna fleet is going through a deep crisis and the fishermen speak of a “disaster” in the tuna campaign. “I don’t remember such a bad year in the four decades that I’ve been fishing,” says one of the oldest skippers, for example. His phrase illustrates the reality of a hard-working sector that is less and less compensated and whose future is marked by quotas “that do not allow us to get ahead,” they point out from the sector itself.
The worst harvest in history.
The outlook for the 250 boats – they provide direct employment to some 700 people – that make up the artisanal fleet of Tenerife and the Canary Islands is very dark. The 2021 tuna harvest (campaign) has been the worst in history. It should be added that those of 2018, 2019 and 2020 were already bad. This last year, moreover, with the pandemic and its consequences. Precisely, covid-19 has negatively affected fish sales, which have dropped a lot.
In his statement, the brotherhoods attack the criteria of the Ministry, which they accuse of favoring the industrial purse-seine fleet that operates in Africa with its activity of overfishing immature tuna specimens, since it consumes the majority of the quota assigned to Spain, which is increasingly dwindling. They maintain that the Spanish Government, far from establishing a state fishing plan based on criteria of sustainability of fishing resources and the marine environment, as ordered by the Common Fisheries Policy, approved a fishing plan that insultingly favors the purse-seine fleet industrial freezer. A fleet that they point to as the cause of the endangerment of this species, to the detriment of the Canarian fleet, historical in this fishery, which is given humiliating treatment in the application of the quota distribution criteria.
The Canarian fishing fleet, and, therefore, of Tenerife, is practically entirely artisanal, which ensures the sustainability of the activity compared to the large purse-seine vessels. The Provincial Federation of Fishermen’s Guilds demands that the historical quota system in the bigeye fishery, known as prickly pear, “artisanal, free and throughout the year”. The Federation of Brotherhoods of Santa Cruz of Tenerife stresses that the traditional capture of the prickly pear helps to sustain the fishermen and their families economically and allows the recovery of coastal and demersal fishing; that is, that of those fish that live near the bottom of the sea.
The Madrid decisions on tuna quotas belonging to the Canary Islands and the distribution among the fleet has put the fishermen “on the brink of ruin and collapse.” The measure, based on criteria such as the history of catches, caused 18 boats to change from list B of pole-and-line tuna vessels from the Canary Islands to list D, the list of multipurpose and minor gear. This has meant a loss and practically ruin. The reason is that they have only had the option of accessing 223 tons of tuna for the 2021 campaign among 202 multi-purpose artisanal boats, compared to the 2,198 that were assigned to pole-and-line tuna vessels. An enormous decrease and the impossibility of continuing fishing, as they dedicate themselves exclusively to this species. In many cases, it has meant not being able to fish for nine months.
The different regulations do not contemplate the reality of the fleet of Canary Islands. They pose another problem for the practice of this profession with all the guarantees and in a safe way. For example, tonnage change rules (vessel volume) and engine power, or the lack of regulations on occupational hazards in the fishing sector, among other deficiencies.
The island fishermen accuse the General Secretariat of Fishing of allowing the purse-seine fleet, which operates outside the state fishing ground, to be governed by rules of the game that are different from the rest, “which is totally reprehensible, unfair and arbitrary”. The Federation emphasizes that the freezer tuna purse-seine fleet is not subject to minimum sizes. Therefore, with absolute impunity, has been capturing juvenile specimens for years. In short, the group censures that the distribution of tuna quotas “rewards those who deplete fishing resources with the highest percentage of quota”, while the Canarian artisanal fleet, which does not harm the resource and fishes responsibly and sustainable, “is condemned to mooring”.
Moroccan or Spanish?
Another concern on the part of the sector is to clarify “where we are fishing”. The fishermen affirm this because barely seven miles from the Canary coast, the ships’ Electronic On-Board Diary (DEA) defines the same area in two different ways. In this case, delimited by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). In 2019 they were “Spanish waters” and the following year “Moroccan waters”. In the original motion of the CC for the plenary session last Friday, the Government of Spain was required to request the FAO “to resume the correct denomination in the DEA of the Spanish waters around the Canary Islands.” This text does not appear in the unanimously approved amendment.
“We have multiplied by one hundred since 2015 the budget allocated to the fishing subsector”
Javier Parrilla, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of the council, highlights the evolution of the budgets allocated to the artisanal fishing subsector. In 2015 it was 5,000 euros and in 2022 that figure is almost multiplied by 100 to reach 489,255 “with upward evolution in recent years,” he explains. We must add the extra 158,000 euros at the end of last year destined for the brotherhoods to help defray their current expenses.
This is how Manuel Díaz, Senior Patron in Los Cristianos, valued it: «A satisfaction for what it means to help in a delicate year, in my opinion the worst in history»
The Cabildo de Tenerife took an institutional agreement in March last year, at the initiative of the PSOE, for “the defense of the prickly pear (Thunnus Obesus) quota of the Canarian artisanal fleet and the prohibition of the use of the purse seine”. In addition to urging the General Secretariat of Fisheries of the Ministry of the Government of Spain to increase catch quotas for the Canarian fleet of prickly pear until reaching 3,600 tons that, historically, correspond to it, according to a criterion that is based on the annual downloads contrasted by different scientific institutions. The Cabildo proposes for this year 2022, when a new distribution with the corresponding quotas is established, to work so that the use of the ancestral methods of sustainable fishing of the tuna and artisanal fleet of the Island is recognized. It does not harm the survival of tuna and that is the reason to expand the fishing opportunities for bigeye (tuna).
Reach up to 12% of the state quota
The councilor of CC Antolín Bueno presented a motion “in defense of artisanal tuna fishing” at the last plenary session of the Cabildo. It was modified with an amendment, approved unanimously, by the person in charge of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Javier Parrilla. His agreements urge the governments of Spain and the Canary Islands to take a series of measures. In the first case, ask the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) to increase the national quota so that the Canary Islands reach 12%. Also to start the steps to complete the transfer of the remaining bigeye quota (Thunnus obesus) not captured by the Canarian fleet in previous years. Finally, conclude the regulations for the change of engines of professional fishing boats. The Government of the Canary Islands is asked to increase the fight against poaching and increase the percentage authorized for multi-purpose ships on the coast, and agree on criteria for fair distribution among them.