Overfishing Is Drying Up Livelihood of Ports in Western Europe

Otto Pohl
International Herald Tribune
June 26, 2001

Vincente Virue wanted to be a fisherman so badly he used his older brother's ID to start working on a ship when he was 12, two years younger than the legal minimum age.

"I was always drawn to the ocean," he said, describing the opportunities and lively activity in the southern Spanish fishing port of Barbate. "I especially looked forward to the Sardine Fest every July, where we ate the best grilled summer sardines and everyone danced flamenco on the beach."

Those are little more than memories now. With no fish left to catch, the port of Barbate is filled with tarp-wrapped boats and rusting anchors. The Sardine Fest still occurs, but it is not the same: The sardines are imported.

Mr. Virue, now 56, has not had any real work in 18 months and does not expect any soon. "There is no future for us in the water anymore," he said.

All across Western Europe, the fishing industry is facing the same threats that have brought Barbate to a standstill. Overfishing has caused fish populations and catches to plummet.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 70 percent of all fish stocks globally are either overfished or in danger of it. In northern European waters, previously abundant hake and cod came so close to commercial extinction last December that an emergency ban on fishing was imposed by the European Union.

In March, the EU agency responsible for shaping European fishing policy, the Directorate General for Fisheries, issued a report on the state of the industry that was intended to spark debate about the first full-scale reform of fishing policy in 20 years.

The report is blunt. "If it is to survive," the report warns, "the Community fisheries sector will have to be significantly smaller than it is today."

Just reducing the domestic fleets might not be enough. Many countries are quickly building up their fishing fleets to make money while they still can.

Gradual Collapse

For Barbate, the final blow came when Morocco chose not to renew an agreement that had allowed Spanish and EU ships to fish in Moroccan waters. Overnight, 4,000 Spanish fishermen in a string of towns along the southern Spanish coast, including most of Barbate's 1,200 fishermen, were out of work.

Continued on Next Page >>


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