María José Cornax is twenty-seven years old. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Science, and she has worked at Oceana for almost three years. She has led several campaigns to eradicate illegal fishing with drift nets in the Mediterranean. This has made her an expert on the topic.
Why did you choose to study marine science?
At the beginning, and I suppose that like many of my classmates, I was attracted by the romantic side to marine research. But little by little, I started to realize the open field of marine science where everything is yet to be discovered and where the basis for chemistry, ecology, physics, biology or geology date back to the last 60 years. Between interest and disinterest in different subjects, there was a constant. Everything that had to do with the fishing world attracted my incurable attention, and not just in the scientific arena but also from a political, social and economic angle. Even though I continued receiving training more focused on aquaculture during my internship, a few months after finishing my degree, I joined Oceana. Here I have been able to work on several campaigns such as the one we are conducting against the use of drift nets in the Mediterranean. I’m currently working on the fight against illegal fishing and toward sustainable exploitation of fishing resources.
Tell us briefly what your campaign consists of and what results you seek.
In the work we do on drift nets, red tuna, bottom trawling and other fishing campaigns, I work with my coworkers to propose effective measures to avoid fishing overexploitation on one hand. On the other hand we investigate and report the causes and causers of this situation and the destruction of the marine environment. My work is currently focused on campaigns such as eliminating illegal drift nets from the Mediterranean, red tuna conservation or mitigating bottom trawling’s destructive action.
How does the work on the Marviva Med help your campaign?
The Marviva Med is a very good work tool from the fishing campaign point of view. To know what is happening, it is necessary to be in the field. At the same time, we need a workplace where we can consult information, develop strategies and continue with the campaigns’ theoretical and political part. This is always in real time and while we are in the field. In the campaign against drift net use, for instance, when we identified a ship that uses this illegal fishing gear, we immediately have access to all of the information we need on the ship, how many times it has been sighted, its usual ports and how many funds it has received and when. Also at the same time, we report what is happening via satellite communication to the enforcing authorities..
What part of your work do you enjoy the most?
Being at sea. Although everything actually. From the fieldwork to the political mechanisms that govern fishing management. They are parts of our work that fascinate me. And especially seeing that change is possible, that we obtain results in the not too long term. Sometimes it is relatively easy to arrive at the sensation that all the work is good for nothing, that the deterioration of our seas is an irreversible process no matter what we do. Imagine that in the case of the drift nets, year after year we continue to identify the same ships that continue to use the same illegal nets after having been reported on numerous occasions. However, we have been able to see how, in the case of France at least, this year we have been able to see that they don’t fish. We have also confirmed that the Italian net fishermen have increasingly more problems carrying out their illegal activity with impunity.
Do you believe that the general public can help in your campaign? How?
Information is the first step toward tipping the scales. The simple fact that the general public knows what is happening, the status of our seas, and the need to preserve them is a gigantic leap. From there we can start proceeding more effectively. A very clear example is the general awareness that has been created regarding bottom trawling. In 2007, within the marine habitat protection campaign, we began the systematic reporting of illegal trawling activities. This not only applies to these protected ecosystems but also to prohibited depths. We showed the public images of the impact of this fishing gear on coralligenous and marl bottoms. We only realized the effect it had had when in August we began receiving reports at the office from the vacationers who saw how the trawlers trawled in waters that were barely 5 meters deep along the Mediterranean coastline…and they reported it. We can’t permanently watch the coast, but people can. It is in the hands of the people who are aware to prevent most attacks on the marine environment from occurring.
This same case applies to the consumption of immature fish, a boycott on red tuna, coastal pollution, the majority of the problems suffered by our seas, and you will realize the power that conscientious individuals as well as groups can have toward contributing to the protection of our oceans.
If you could make a wish for your campaign, what would it be?
I would like to see how the Mediterranean Sea will come back to life, see how many of its bottoms stop being sandy pits razed by the action of humans and see how fishing boats reclaim pleasure craft harbors and housing developments by carrying out a sustainable activity. But in the short term, the first step in which I see we can act the soonest and most realistically is in measures such as la eliminating the use of drift nets, a three year ban to protect red tuna or simply that the valid fishing laws be enforced. For me, these would be great achievements and they would constitute proof that we are still in time, that it’s not too late, and that our seas are not condemned to become watery deserts. And especially, that the ancient symbiosis between humans and the oceans has not been permanently turned into an act of irrational depredation.