The trawlers, to the limit
Long faces, silence, anger and, above all, sadness. This is the atmosphere that is breathed any day at six in the morning in the Confraria de Pescadors de Tarragona. And is not for less. The trawlers have reached the limit. They can't anymore. The cuts in fishing days, imposed by European regulations, have touched and sunk a sector that has been dying for years. This reduction in days to go fishing is forcing fishermen to moor their boats in port, and thus be able to leave during the month of December, when fish prices rise considerably due to the arrival of Christmas. The situation is extreme and from the Confraria de Pescadors de Tarragona they warn that, little by little, the end of this trade is approaching.
The European regulation states that, in 2025, the working days for trawler fishermen must have been reduced by 40% compared to 2019. The reason is to conserve the Mediterranean ecosystem, thus reducing catches. To achieve the goal, the administration is progressively cutting days. Each year, and depending on the ports, fishing days are reduced by between 6 and 8%. The measure affects the entire Mediterranean coast: from Port de la Selva to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, passing through the ports of Tarragona.
European regulations determine the days that fishermen can go out to fish, depending on the size of the boat. He divides them into four groups. In the Confraria de Pescadors de Tarragona there are two boats of less than 12 meters in length, which can leave 144 days throughout this 2022; eleven ships of 12 to 18 meters in length, which will fish for 159 days; six from 18 to 24, who are allowed to fish 175 days; and finally, five of more than 24 meters, which will have to fish this year for 182 days. The question that everyone is asking is: What is the reason or the criteria that justifies this distribution? No fisherman knows.
"We don't understand how in the same port, there can be such a difference in days," explains the secretary of the Tarragona Fishermen's Guild, Rosa Sans, who adds that "there are some boats that can only go out to work five months a year, but that they must pay the social security of their employees throughout the year. What company can stand this pace? For the sector, the measure is unfair. "Especially considering that here, in Tarragona, of our own free will, we have already stopped for two and a half months," says Sans.
As happened last year at this time, now, most skippers decide to moor their boats or not go out so often, in order to reserve days and use them in December. At Christmas, fish goes up in price and fishermen can recover a bit. Jaume Sans, skipper of the Joan i Maria boat, is one of them. “We only work four days a week. The fifth we stayed ashore," explains the skipper, who adds that "we want to make sure we can fish at Christmas."
Not working every day does not mean not having to deal with fixed expenses. “They forbid us to go out, but we have to continue paying the social security of the sailors. In addition, maintenance", explains Andreu Domènech, skipper of the Maria Ferré boat, who assures that "apart from the cuts in fishing days, more things must be added, such as the increase in the price of fuel and the decrease in fish price.
The measure of the reduction of fishing days is even generating discomfort among the fishermen themselves. The conflict for the interests of one and the other is served. And it is that there is the possibility of sharing the days in case a boat breaks down. This is what the Confraria de Pescadors de Tarragona has done. So that we understand each other, if a boat has to remain moored due to a maintenance problem, the days that belong to it are distributed among the others. It is a way to compensate for the restrictions faced by the sector. But the truth is that the misfortune of some is the fate of others. "The administrations are using the strategy of divide and conquer, so that the group does not fight for its interests," explains the secretary of the Confraria.
What almost all the patrons agree on is that, if they could, they would scrap their boat – that is, dispose of it – and start a new life. “We feel persecuted. We can't anymore. If what they really want is for fishing to end, let them tell us clearly. No need to waste any more time,” says Sans. The secretary of the Tarragona Fishermen's Guild assures that at least 10 of the 24 skippers of the trawler would be willing to scrap their boats. "We're getting close to the end," says Sans.