Spain tackles illegal commercial fishing

by Lorraine Williamson
illegal commercial fishing

MADRID – The Spanish government is working on a bill to prevent recreational fishing to cover up illegal commercial fishing. This mainly concerns the protection of popular fish species such as sea bass and tuna. 

The ever-increasing fishing industry is becoming a serious ecological problem for Spain. Uncontrolled overfishing means more and more fish species are threatened with extinction. This is partly a result of so-called recreational fishing that serves as camouflage for illegal commercial fishing interests. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries recognises this problem and is now working on better control systems. 

Identification of illegally caught fish 

The government bill states, among other things, recreational fishermen are explicitly prohibited from working with equipment intended for professional fishing. In addition, there will be checks in the ports on the fish caught. Recreational fishermen must also cut the caudal fin of their fish as a sign that the they are recreational fisheries. And as such they would be recognised in the commercial market as illegally caught fish. 

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Unfair competition from illegal commercial fishing

Professional fisheries are also the victims of the so-called recreational fishermen because the regulations for the latter are much less strict. This results in an unfair competitive position within the fishing sector. 

The illegal fishermen can sell their fish on the black market where there is always a demand for popular fish species that are threatened with extinction, such as the bluefin tuna and the grouper. These fish species can yield thousands of euros per catch. 

Sport fishing is increasingly a problem for fish stocks 

Apart from the illegal commercial fishing, the regular recreational catch has recently increased to such an extent that it also affects the fish stock in Spanish waters. It is difficult to say exactly how big this impact is, because the fish caught recreationally does not appear on the fish market. The Catalan Research Institute for Maritime Management calculated last year that in 2019 recreational fisheries caught 1,360 tons of fish along the Catalan coast, which is 5% of commercial fishing. In the Balearic Islands this percentage would even be 25%. 

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