Despite fishing harder, Spanish fisheries catching less than 60 years ago

Both the catches and the size of the fish have decreased since 1950 and several species have disappeared from parts of the Gulf of Cadiz and the Spanish Mediterranean.

Press Release Date: April 7, 2014

Location: Madrid


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In the Balearic Islands, the power of the trawler fleet has increased by a factor of 500 during the last century  

study led by researcher Marta Coll and with data from Oceana on the Balearic Islands reveals how the quantity and quality of the catch has been declining since the nineteen-fifties. According to Spanish fishermen in the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Cadiz who have been interviewed, in 1950 fishing was carried out in shallower water and closer to the coast than today. This change is linked to the overexploitation of coastal resources, which has led to an expansion of the area of activity in search of new fishing grounds.

At the same time, the power of vessels has increased dramatically. For example, in the case of the Balearic Islands, a trawling fleet of 60 hp in 1920, when the motorisation of these vessels was first introduced, has given way to one with an official total of 12,000 hp today.

“It is common for trawlers to have more power than what is declared officially and also more than the 500 hp established by the law,” affirms Xavier Pastor, fisheries biologist and Executive Director of Oceana in Europe. “It is currently estimated that the trawler fleet in the Balearic Islands has a total of 30,800 hp, which is almost three times what the official records suggest. This is an enormous ecological and tax fraud that the authorities tolerate with impunity.”

Despite this enormous increase in fishing effort, output has declined. According to the fishermen interviewed, catches could be as high as up to 10 tonnes a day between 1950 and 1980, while between 1990 and 2000 they did not reach 5 tonnes.

Moreover, older fishermen claimed that the biggest fish caught during their careers weighed as much as 500 kg, while for the younger fishermen this was a fish of only 200 kg.

There have also been changes in the species caught. Species that were once common, such as the smoothound and the dogfish, are now very rare due to overfishing. There are even other species that fishermen consider to be extinct in certain areas, such as the nursehound, angel shark and spider crab. 

“In this study, the fishermen confirm with their own experience what scientists have been demonstrating regarding the reduction in fishery productivity in recent decades,” affirms Marta Carreras, marine scientist at Oceana and co-author. “This reaffirms the need to change the fishing model that has been followed until now, to ensure a profitable future for fisheries and proper marine conservation.”

In this regard, the recently agreed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which will determine fishing activity in Europe over the next ten years, incorporates bold measures such as eliminating the discarding of unwanted fish, that will help transform fishing into a sustainable activity.

Assessing Fishing and Marine Biodiversity Changes Using Fishermen’s Perceptions: The Spanish Mediterranean and Gulf of Cadiz Case Study