The Spanish Indian Ocean tuna vessels, against the ropes: “They want to kill the fleet”

The Spanish Indian Ocean tuna vessels, against the ropes: “They want to kill the fleet”

The fleet of freezer tuna vessels is the one that has undergone the greatest renewal in recent years, with units such as the Monteraiola (from the Freire Shipyard), Galerna Lau (Armón Gijón), Txori Zuri (Murueta) or Aterpe Alai (Zamakona Yards). It is a vital fleet segment for the Spanish industry –mainly with Basque capital but with a large part of the Galician crew– and the self-sufficiency of a resource in enormous demand, both for the canned and processed, frozen or refrigerated markets. But, for the one that operates in the vast waters of the Indian Ocean, the panorama is blackened by forced marches. The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), which is meeting these days in Mombasa (Kenya), has put on the table a proposal that involves an attack on the waterline of the seine gear. “They want to kill the fleet and throw us out of there,” condemns the manager of the Organization of Large Tuna Freezer Associated Producers (Opagac), Julio Morón.

The Spanish Indian Ocean tuna vessels, against the ropes: “They want to destroy the fleet.”

Freezer seiners use a system of beacons or buoys –increasingly, made with biodegradable materials–, which they distribute in the open sea and to which schools of fish approach to protect themselves from predators. A kind of localized lures, planted by auxiliary vessels (maciceros), around which the gear is later deployed, taking advantage of the concentration of fish. They are called FAD (Fish Aggregation Device), and each fishing vessel is authorized to distribute 300 of these beacons in Indian Ocean waters. But on the table is a drastic and immediate reduction, reducing this capacity to 150 FADs and with a ban of three months. “It’s a real madness”, abounds Morón, who will participate from this Tuesday in the meetings in the African city. Fleet managers from the bulk of Spanish shipowners also attended, as well as the director of the tuna group of the European employers’ association Europêche, Anne-France Mattlet.

The John Burton factor

The IOTC, sources from the sector abound, is under the influence of some environmental groups, which ensure that the provision of FADs depletes fisheries. Countries like the Maldives or Kenya are highly influenced by some entities that pay for trips, excursions… They confuse people with arguments before which the European Union has very little room for manoeuvre, “they detail. These sources point to, for example, British businessman John Burton and the NGO International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF). “What it is about is wanting to eliminate the FADs and prohibit the maciceros.”

The practice of tuna fishing for the Spanish fleet would be completely decapitalized at a technical level. The community delegation has proposed, to counteract this position of maximums, a reduction from 300 to 280 beacons, with a view to a subsequent reduction to 260. “Work is being done with the Seychelles – it is a nerve center for this fleet of capital Spanish– and with more coastal countries, we must try to stop this and get them to support the European Union”, Morón complements.

Behind these maximalisms also, in the opinion of the same sources, are countries like India. “They want to fish whatever they want, without being accountable to anyone, and we get kicked out of there.”

The course of the negotiations is followed with the utmost attention from the ports of Bermeo or Ribeira, although it is foreseeable that it will not be until the 5th when the final decision of this commission is known. There are around twenty freezer purse seiners that operate in waters supervised by the IOTC under the Spanish flag, without having auxiliary vessels, frozen fish transport or fishing vessels that operate with other flags but with Basque or Galician capital.

The FADs


The use of these elements has been considerably reduced –before, up to 500 per ship were deployed–, in addition to a proliferation of those made with biodegradable and plant-based materials. They are known as FAD, for its acronym in English (Fish Aggregation Device).


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