Underwater graveyard of big tuna around Balearic Islands

by Deborah Cater
many big tuna, such as the bluefin, end up in a watery graveyard
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The waters around the Balearic Islands are a hotspot for tuna fishermen. It is the habitat of big tuna such as the bluefin, a popular and expensive delicacy in Japan. However, according to La Gaceta Naútica, this fishing poses problems for other fishermen in the area.

The sea is calm when Captain Felip Solbes sails his trawler in the channel between Ibiza and Mallorca in early June. He is fishing for langoustine and fire shrimp with the Nou Almuixó when the boat suddenly “falls still”. It looks like something got caught in the net. He tells La Gaceta Naútica, “we hoisted the net and the winch started to vibrate, I thought it would break”. To his surprise, he just accidentally caught 8 dead giant tuna.

This involves a total of almost 2 tons of ‘tonyina’, which is worth gold in other circumstances on the Japanese market. But for him it is a problem. The weight destroys his net and legally he is not allowed to land this species.

Tuna overboard so they don’t count towards quota

This is not the first time fishermen in the area have caught dead bluefin tuna. It happens every year. If the tuna fishermen catch dead tuna or if they don’t survive the nets, they throw them overboard so they don’t count towards the quota. “They want them alive to take them to the fish farms in Cartagena and Tarragona, where they are fattened and then sold year-round in the Japanese market,” says Felip.

Casa Las Dunas Spain

In the Mediterranean there are 2 large ‘tonyina’ factories which hold a large part of the Spanish quota. According to Captain Solbes, this creates true submarine graveyards with giant tuna around the Balearic Islands. This is also confirmed by other shrimp and anchovy fishermen, “they appear everywhere, every year”.

Bluefin tuna catch

The tuna discarded by tuna fishermen are outside the quota and therefore not counted in the checks carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, or the European Union. About ten years ago, the bluefin tuna ended up on the list of endangered species after heavy overfishing (in combination with illegal catches). Thanks to strict quotas imposed at the time, the population has increased again. The EU therefore allows more to be caught, but countries still have to adhere to a certain maximum.

The unwanted haul of the Nou Almuixó

It turned out not to be so easy for Felip to get rid of the giant tuna. Where, according to him, other fishermen secretly throw the unwanted catch back, he wanted to expose the problem. But repeated calls to the Spanish Navy patrol boat, which oversees the tuna fishery, go unanswered. The rescue service can’t help him either. After all, no one is in danger.

Finally, he is instructed by a fisheries inspector to dispose of the tuna on the spot. But he refuses without a written order. He then contacts the press to tell his story and sails with the cargo to Ibiza. There he finally manages to get rid of the fish. All in all, this situation cost him a net, 100 kilos of spoiled Norway lobster and a day’s work for the crew. “About €4,000,” he calculates.

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