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June 4, 2021

The benefits of electronic tracking systems for small-scale fishers

Nueva Pilar 3CO6191 Artes menores *** Local Caption *** Fishing vessel in the harbour of Lira, Galicia, Spain. Catamaran Oceana Ranger Atlantic Cantabric Expedition. June 2008. Pesquero en el puerto de Lira, Galicia, España. Expedición por el Atlántico Cantábrico del catamarán Oceana Ranger. Junio 2008


Small-scale fishers in Galicia are actively protesting against the future fisheries control regulation. Specifically, they complain that the new regulation will force them, on the one hand, to carry tracking devices on board of their vessels, and on the other, to electronically report all their catches.

Introducing changes and new technologies will always generate resistance and negative reactions, not only within the fishing sector. But these tools, put in the hands of fishers themselves, can enormously help to better understand these fisheries, manage them sustainably, improve the knowledge of their catches and recognise their fishing needs.

The use of tracking systems is not only aimed at preventing fishing activities from taking place in restricted areas, such as marine protected areas, but also at securing the safety of those fishers that might have an accident when they are at sea. The information that will be collected with the use of these tracking and catch reporting tools will also be enormously valuable for the authorities and fishers themselves: once all this information has been processed, fishers can conduct assessments of fishing grounds and prepare maps to locate valuable fishing resources, facilitate sales, provide market information and optimise the business management of these small fishing families.

Where these tools have already been implemented, such as in Andalusia, the small-scale fishing sector is actively promoting them (as this video shows). Even in Galicia there are already several small-scale fishers who have voluntarily decided to install tracking systems (see video here). This suggests that the demonstrations and protests in Galicia are not specifically related to the use of these new tools, but rather to the consequences they may have for their fishing opportunities and their access to fishing quotas.

It will be a mistake to look at these tools as a way of limiting the amount of fish that small-scale fishers can catch; on the contrary, these tools should be seen as a unique opportunity to gather information and create records on their actual catches, both current and historical, which will ultimately give them greater visibility and show their socio-economic importance.

There are many benefits that the new fisheries control system will have for fishers, marine sustainability and consumers. Another important aspect to highlight is the improvement in the traceability of seafood products, by ensuring that all seafood products available in the European market are properly tracked from the point of capture to the point of sale, ensuring their legality and sustainability. This would require that the future traceability system is digitalised and covers all seafood products, including imported and processed products. This will avoid any competitive discrimination against European fishers, and prevent illegal products from ending up on our plates.

Given the size of European demand for seafood, setting a comprehensive and digitalised traceability system will encourage transparency and accountability not only in the EU, but also far beyond the EU’s own seafood supply. The revision of the EU’s fisheries control system is a unique opportunity to secure this.

Ignacio Fresco Vanzini is lawyer and policy consultant specialising on ocean governance and currently a consulatant for Oceana in Europe’s IUU Fishing campiagn.