Thursday, 16 April 2020 07:19

Decisions on fisheries management are based on the best available scientific advice - Strong support for data collecting efforts

EM 2 20 Alicia Villauriz IglesiasThis article featured in EUROFISH Magazine 2 2020.
Dña. Alicia Villauriz Iglesias, the Secretary General for Fisheries, has a long history at top levels of the administration of the Spanish agriculture, fisheries, and food sectors with experience both from within Spain and outside. She outlines here some of the issues facing the Spanish fisheries sector and the measures her administration is taking to address them.

Regulations on the ban on discards and the obligation to land all catches have been in force across the EU since last year. What has been the impact on the Spanish fleet? How is compliance with these regulations monitored and what happens to fish that is landed but that cannot be sold (e.g. undersized specimens)?

The first year of full implementation of the landing obligation, 2019, has been positive for the Spanish fleet, since the main objective, which was the maintenance of the fishing activity avoiding the well-known “choke effect”, was possible, due to the efforts made for the implementation of the necessary mechanisms of flexibility. However, additional progress is needed in the future years, for instance, with the improvement of selectivity of the gears. The fish which cannot be sold for direct human consumption is managed by ports for alternative destinations.

This year (2020) was when fishing was supposed to be at levels that achieve Maximum Sustainable Yield. What has this meant for the Spanish fishing sector?

The year 2020 is the objective set by the CFP to reach the exploitation of stocks at the MSY level. Since 2019, all stocks targeted by Spanish fleets in national and community fishing grounds, and for which there is scientific advice at the MSY level, had their TACs and quotas set at this limit. The fishing sector is the first to be interested in the long-term sustainability of stocks and their ecosystems. The appropriate management strategy developed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been based on the best available scientific advice and a strict control and inspection system, as well as the maximum use of resources within their biological possibilities and socioeconomic conditions. This strategy has allowed the maintenance of or increase in TAC and quotas, with the natural fluctuations when dealing with biological resources.

The conditions introduced in the multiannual plans allow the use of fishing mortality ranges, which, from a scientific point of view, are considered as maximum sustainable yield and therefore sustainable. This approach allows consideration of socio-economic aspects that are fundamental for the fishing sector to provide the necessary stability for the decision-making process. Therefore, the advisory role of scientific organizations that gives different options to the fisheries sector, always within the framework of RMS, is essential.

What trends can be noted in the Spanish fishing fleet over the last five years? Has the fleet taken any measures to mitigate its impact on global warming? How can the ministry encourage this development?

The number of Spanish active fishing vessels has experienced a significant decline in recent years, continuing the downward trend since Spain entered the European Union in 1986. The profitability has increased in the last years, partially due to the decrease of fuel prices, one of the main costs. However, there has been a significant effort to increase the fuel consumption efficiency, including some relevant initiatives, supported by the ministry, such as the use of wind by surface longliners in the high seas. These actions show the concern and priority shared by the sector to mitigate the effects of climate change and improve energy efficiency on fishing vessels, as evidenced by the inclusion of actions for this purpose in Spain’s Maritime and Fisheries Operational Programme, co-financed by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

According to data monitoring use of the fund, since 2014, 160 projects have been approved for a total amount of EUR 8.8m (of which EUR 4.5m come from the EMFF), directly related to the reduction of energy consumption and the renewable energy incorporation. The scope of these actions has focused on investments on board with 85 projects aimed at replacing parts and engines; in the field of ports, 27 projects have been approved, mainly promoted by fishermen’s unions, who have also accessed such projects through local strategies.

How important are UK waters currently for the Spanish fleet? If no agreement between the UK and the EU is reached by the end of 2020 what will it mean for the Spanish fishing sector?

Spain has a traditional and significant fishing activity in UK waters, both in the north and west of Scotland and in the southwest of England. Although the activity of this fleet is limited within the waters of the United Kingdom, in case of no-agreement it will be necessary to relocate the fleet of the European Union. Therefore, the eight Member States affected by this matter, Spain among them, and the Commission are studying the impact of the shift of fishing effort to other fishing grounds. Finally, we cannot forget other Spanish interests in the context of Brexit, in the way of ownership by Spanish companies of UK-flagged vessels or EU-27 flagged vessels, fleets that land their catches in Spanish ports and sell most of their products into the Spanish market.

Climate change is manifesting in many ways from unusual climatic events to warming waters and increased acidification. What has been the impact on the Spain’s fisheries and aquaculture sector and what measures are being implemented to mitigate and to increase the resilience of affected sectors?

Global change must be tackled on several fronts. The Government has adopted a long-term strategy that considers multiple factors and coordinates different levels of administration, scientific institutions and sectors. In the specific case of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, we are committed to an ecosystem approach to fisheries management. In order to carry out this correct management, we first need high quality scientific evaluations. For this, the basic pillar is the collection of data of sufficient quality and the development of models that allow integrating all the information collected and obtaining the best evaluations.

For this reason, we rely first of all on clear support to the scientific organizations so that they can start this work, transferring the knowledge needed for fisheries management. The development of multidisciplinary research campaigns at sea allow us to collect the maximum possible information thus optimizing material and human resources and guaranteeing long historical series that allow trends to be analysed. Also, from the General Secretariat of Fisheries we carry out monitoring in particular places such as marine reserves of fishing Interest. We also participate in the different work groups constituted for this purpose in the General State Administration. In addition, the EMFF provides for a number of measures that contribute to reducing or mitigating the effect of climate change.

For Spain, the most important measures are those concerning the collection of data, actions in ports and cessation of activity, followed by others such as innovation or energy efficiency. With regard to data collection actions, they are an essential source of Information that facilitate forecasts and therefore decision-making. In addition to the National Data Collection Plan, other analyses are carried out at the national or local level.

Spain has a highly organized fisheries and aquaculture sector with associations representing companies at every step of the value chain. In addition to providing a voice for the partners they represent, what role do associations play and how are they expected to evolve given the fall in employment in the sector?

Within the fisheries sector the different associations as well employment in the companies they represent are in good condition. Except for a slight decline in the maritime fisheries sector, mainly linked to the adjustment of fleet capacity with available resources, employment is stable or has grown in aquaculture, fishing and distribution. The fundamental role of the associations is the defence of the interests of its members. Today, associations form an important organized, professionalized and stable socio-economic structure implemented throughout the territory, which allows cooperation in the transmission and enforcement of regulations, the promotion of technical innovations, the channelling of information to and from the producer sector, and the facilitation of the sector’s adaptation to changes and new technologies.

In the future, the role of these associations will be to further participate in advisory bodies of the European Union, international institutions and the Spanish Administration, especially the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as institutional partners for the ongoing dialogue to set up a fisheries policy and general planning of the economy for the general interest. Promoting associations in the fisheries sector is one of the main priorities of the ministry. As an example, during 2019, EUR 7.55m was allocated to prepare and implement the production and marketing plans of fisheries producer organisations.

Spain is a member of the GFCM a body whose area of operations is the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Both these seas are seriously environmentally challenged — stocks are heavily overfished, pollution, eutrophication, falling biodiversity, marine litter, and invasive species. How is Spain contributing to solving some of these challenges?

Once again, scientific knowledge is the basis for implementing the most appropriate mitigation measures. For this we work closely with the main scientific institutions of the country. And we have established a programme of information gathering and analysis, based on multidisciplinary research campaigns at sea, in addition to scientific observer programmes on board commercial vessels and in the main ports. All this allows us to provide scientists with quality and necessary infrastructure so that they can make their recommendations.

On the fishing itself, Spain is committed to the sustainability of the fishing resources in the Mediterranean, based on best scientific advice. For that reason, Spain is one of the most active countries in GFCM, for example, in the Medfish4ever ministerial declaration. Also, Spain has been one of the EU Member States involved in the new EU multiannual plan for demersal fisheries in the Western Mediterranean, which is going to be implemented over the next years. Additionally, Spain will work in the future to improve the sustainable management of the small pelagic resources in the Mediterranean at national level.