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In accordance with a five-year plan introduced last year, the European Commission has been pushing a 15 percent reduction in the number of fishing days permitted in the Mediterranean this year. However, Spain, particularly the autonomous regions which are dependent on fisheries rebelled, as did the Balearic Islands, including Mallorca.
Mae de la Concha, the Agriculture and Fisheries Minister for the Balearics, despite being a member of the left-leaning Podemos party, has sided with fishermen who called for the proposal to be shelved.
However, Spanish minister Luis Planas conducted a series of subsequent negotiations with Brussels which resulted in a commitment to reduce the number of fishing days by 7.5 percent – still far too high for Mallorcan fishermen.
Domingo Bonnin, president of the Balearic Professional Fishermen association, said: “In the Balearic Islands, there are just 34 boats with trawls, spread over 1,700 kilometres of coastline.
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“This means there is a boat every 50 kilometres.
“On the mainland there are sometimes several dozen boats every 50 kilometres.”
A reduction of 7.5 percent – equal to roughly 12 fishing days a year – would leave many fishermen on the brink of financial ruin, Mr Bollin said, especially as they already had to deal with cuts of ten percent already this year.
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More trouble is on the horizon, he pointed out – by 2025, the fishing days are to be reduced by 40 percent compared to 2019.
Mr Bonnin said he and his colleagues on the islands are really not the reason why the Mediterranean is so overfished.
Mr Bonnin also argued fishermen from the mainland, rather than the Balearics, were guilty of overfishing, a situation he described as “more than worth discussing, if not scandalous”.
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A recent report by the World Food Organization suggested 75 percent of the fish species in the Mediterranean are overfished – but Mr Bonnin said: “That doesn’t apply to the Balearic Islands.”
He also pointed out the demand for fish declined rapidly due to closed hotels and restaurants as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Therefore, only half of the fleet went fishing in during the lockdown.
Oriol Esteban from the marine protection organisation Fundacion Marilles added: “The fishermen in the Balearic Islands actually behave in a more exemplary fashion than their colleagues in large parts of the Spanish mainland.”
He contrasted the small boats used by Mallorcan fishermen with the larger boats from elsewhere with mainly catch hake and herring from the water
Nevertheless, he accused Balearic fishermen of damaging the seabed with their trawls and catching more fish than would be beneficial for sustainability.
Therefore, he argued the cuts of 15 percent would have been the right signal, admitting his “disappointment” at the decision by Ms de la Concha and her colleagues to oppose the 15 percent target.
In terms of the future of fishing on the islands, he added: “It has to go as it does in tourism: away from quantity, towards quality.”
Fishermen should spend fewer days out on the sea, therefore catching a higher quality of fish, for which they could charge higher prices, he suggested.
The goal should be to be open to “innovation”, he stressed.
(Additional reporting by Maria Ortega)
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