Oceana requests an immediate halt to fuel subsidies for “Lose-Lose” fisheries

The marine conservation organisation denounces fuel subsidies to more than 40 Spanish Mediterranean bottom trawlers operating with illegal engines up to six times more powerful than permitted.

Press Release Date: December 17, 2013

Location: Madrid


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Oceana asks instead for a restructuring of these fisheries that are ecologically and economically absurd

Oceana researchers are drawing attention to a fleet of more than 40 trawlers fishing with illegal and too- powerful engines in the Mediterranean. According to various sources the bottom trawlers operate motors with horsepower up to 1,500 – 3,000 CV – much higher than the legally allowed 500 CV. These vessels receive millions of Euros in subsidies for fuel costs from the Spanish government. The subsidies are higher than they would otherwise be if the engines were within the legal norms because these oversized illegal engines consume far more fuel and they are reimbursed on the amount of fuel used.

In all, 40 bottom trawlers are registered in the official Spanish and European fleet registers with engines much more powerful than the allowed 500 CV – most of them operate from the Catalonian harbours of Ametlla de Mar, Palamos, Tarragona, Blanes and Roses. The engines allow the fishing boats to fish in deeper water and more promising fishing grounds.

According to the Spanish Royal Decree 1440/1999, which regulates bottom trawling activities in the Mediterranean, engine power is not allowed to exceed 500 CV in Spanish national fishing grounds in the Mediterranean. It is a well known and often documented fact that a large number of bottom trawlers throughout the Mediterranean operate in breach of the law.

Bottom trawling is one of the most destructive fishing techniques that exist. In the Mediterranean, the key stocks for the Spanish bottom trawlers are hake, mullet, red shrimp and Norway lobster – all of these species are overexploited in most of the Mediterranean due to elevated fishing pressure. But that is not the only problem. The use of trawl nets leads to extremely high unwanted by-catch, which is thrown over board as “discards”, sometimes up to 75 per cent of the total catch. Moreover, the heavy doors of bottom trawls disturb the seabed and damage the ecosystem including seagrasses and corals.

A major problem with bottom trawling is the extremely high energy consumption in the form of fuel and the vessels’ dependency on government subsidies.

“A huge part of the bottom trawling fleet is fishing with illegal motors, using up to six times the power they are allowed to use by law. They fish for already overexploited species and disturb the seabed and the corals in the Mediterranean – this has to stop immediately,” says Oceana Executive Director Xavier Pastor. “The vessels with the too-powerful engines have to be scrapped quickly and the Spanish government has to stop wasting taxpayers’ money on fuel subsidies for illegal activities.”    

The agreement made several weeks ago on the distribution of new fuel subsidies in Spain under the “de minimis” regime means that trawlers with illegal engines can fish and disturb the ecosystem at least one day per week using “free” fuel. Prior to last month’s strike, the previous one, when Spanish trawler captains blockaded harbors to successfully pressure the government for fuel subsidies, was only three years ago and yet prices keep on rising and there are now new demands for more subsidies.

“This senseless practice has to stop. Fuel subsidies keep fisheries alive that should instead be restructured because they are “lose-lose” fisheries –economically and ecologically absurd“, says Oceana economist Anne Schroeer. “First the stocks have to be managed effectively and then a smaller, legal and well- managed fleet can prosper by fishing sustainably”.

Oceana is asking the Spanish government to review their own fleet register, send inspectors to the harbours and request repayment of all fuel subsidies that were given to Mediterranean trawlers with engines over 500 CV. Oceana is also calling for a halt to fuel subsidies paid to fishermen and is asking the governments to replace them with intelligent programs to reduce fishing capacity and promote less fuel dependent fishing gear.