Oceana has identified 4 trawlers operating illegally between 9 and 25 metres depth and at less than 6 miles from the coast, atop spectacular coral and gorgonian sea beds or in waters of Doñana National Park.
Huelva’s trawling closed season began on September 24. Oceana doubts this measure will be effective and requests effective control measures during this period.
The Oceana Ranger research vessel, which belongs to the marine conservation organisation Oceana, carried out part of its 2007 expedition off the coasts of Huelva in order to document seabeds, mainly in Doñana National Park and its surroundings. The illegal fishing activities of the fleets from Huelva and Cadiz were documented daily during this phase of the expedition. When faced with the complaints from the international marine conservation organisation, the authorities’ predominant attitude was a total lack of initiative to enforce the law.
Bottom trawling, which is prohibited in the Gulf of Cadiz at less than 50 meters depth or 6 miles from the coast, is the most recurrent of the infringements observed. On September 3, vessels such as the “Nuevo Panchita” (3HU31609) and the “Abuelo Pichin” (3HU21/98) were illegally fishing at 25 meters depth and at less than 6 miles from the coast on top of immensely valuable gorgonian seabeds that Oceana had documented just the day before with the help of an undersea robot (ROV). The Oceana Ranger crew reported these facts both to the Provincial Office of Agriculture and Fishing and the Deputy General Directorate of Fishing Inspections within the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing. The “Nuevo Panchita”, however, continued fishing illegally in the area six hours after the administrations were alerted, destroying whole communities of gorgonians. The situation repeated itself the next day, when another vessel, the “Hermanos Neto” (3-HU2-2302), was documented off the coast of Punta Umbria.
Two days later, while carrying out a night dive in waters of Doñana National Park, another trawler, the “Hermanos Gallito” (3-SE-1205), was seen entering Park waters and setting its nets at only 9 meters depth and less than 1 mile off the coast.
According to Xavier Pastor, executive director for Oceana in Europe: ”What we have observed is scandalous. The recurrent and unpunished violation of the current legislation, even occurring in waters of Doñana National Park, is a clear symptom that the system as a whole is failing”, and he adds that “there are seabeds off Huelva’s coast that are in need of protection, and this could be achieved, in principle, if even minimum control measures existed for illegal bottom trawling”.
Oceana, however, has not only documented illegal trawling fishing activities. Purse seining, which is prohibited in the Fishing Reserve of the Guadalquivir river delta, is apparently quite common in this area that is vitally important and used as a nursery by a wide range of species. Hydraulic dredgers operating within the area of Doñana National Park have also been observed in prohibited areas, as well as a wealth of illegal nets simply marked with corks or bottles throughout the Huelva coast.
Xavier Pastor believes this is due to the complete laxness of authorities to enforce the law: “When we have reported the infringements while directly watching them occur, the majority of the time the proper authorities have not reacted with appropriate or effective measures to prevent them,”. Pastor adds that ”the control measures must be effective and particularly reinforced during the 60-day closed season that has begun for trawlers”.