Pedro Garcia is from La Asociacion de Naturalistas del Sureste (ANSE) in Southeast Murcia, Cartagena, Spain.


What is your concern?

For many years we have communicated with the red tuna sector that ANSE would not be opposed to the expansion of tuna farm on our coast in our region. These farms should be placed where they won't present environmental problems and won't contribute, as they are doing now, to the overexploitation of the reproductive bank of the red tuna on the Bank of the Mediterranean. From our point of view, these promises are not being kept.
Contrary to what one might think initially, a large part of these farms, which run on the Southeast coast of Spain, is located exactly in the same place that the regional government, the autonomous government, once thought were not sufficient for the development of this activity.

Placed around the shore where the same government has proposed in several occasion to declare them as reserves, now have farms that are too close to very fragile ecosystems, like sea grasslands, a habitat which is a conservation priority in the European Union. Probably the worst is that parts of these farms have even received important subsidies, very large subsidies I would say from the governments to continue running in precisely the areas where they probably should have never been installed.

Why is the sea grass a habitat where people do fishing?

Part of the problem of the closeness of the tuna farms on some coastal areas, like the case we were talking earlier of the Cape and La Bahia, is primarily because of the presence of sea grass. The sea grass is a plant of prime importance. It's a plant that has adapted to living in the waters of the Mediterranean, it's a native plant, unique to the Mediterranean ecosystem that provide a marvelous refuge for the stages of larva development of many fish species of commercial interest. This is not only because of fish of commercial interest, but because the grass contains a large diversity of marine flora and fauna and is considered of great interest in a Mediterranean scale.

The problem with these ecosystems is that they are very fragile. The sea grass doesn't tolerate murkiness, water pollution in general. In this way in some of our regions, some activities of fish farming such as the farming of sea bass and gilthead has a definite history of destroying important sea grasslands, as has occurred, for example in the coast of Aguilas. There isn't enough information in the case of tuna, but some branches of the government such as the Spanish Oceanographic Institute are warning against the closeness of some farms to the grasslands.

The grassland is important not only for its diversity but for the many species that reproduce in the grasslands and that develop a part of their life, the stages of young fish in and around the grasslands. Later they have commercial interest; that is the conservation of the grasslands is very important for conserving and maintaining a rational operation of traditional fisheries beyond the grasslands. The fragility of the sea grassland as a consequence of the excrement coming from the tuna farms is now one of the greater risks when it comes to deciding which places should or should not have farms. In this sense, some of the farms on our coast, like the sea bass and gilthead farms, can contribute to the destruction of the sea grasslands.

Where are the pollution problems in the red tuna farms found? What are the concerns of ANSE?

The concern for the problem of contamination on the farms results because it has been many years that our region has had problems with other farms. In this case, the gilthead and sea bass have destroyed important submarine communities like the sea grasslands, as observed from studies, which have been made on distinct sides of the planet. Evidently, the great quantity of excrement from the tunas and the enormous quantity of fish food that the tuna do not eat fall to the bottom and are supposed to help the sea grass. This sets up a potential important problem, noticing that they locate themselves on the coast of the region. Many of these farms are exactly next to the sea grasslands, and it is necessary to take it into account as one of the most important factors for placing the farms.

The habitat of submarine sea grasses is very important for the fish and for commercial fishing, right?

The sea grasslands are a unique type of habitat in the Mediterranean. It only exists in the Mediterranean. It forms an ecosystem of sea grassland, which is also called algae. It is an important refuge for the early stages of many fish species, from the small salmon to the gilthead to many more species that are later caught by the traditional float, by smaller boats, or by bigger crawler boats. They create an important problem for these sea grasslands if they contribute towards degrading these sea grasslands, which they find protected at an international level. They are considered a priority habitat by European standard.

There have been many studies made, precisely, on the coasts of the region by the University of Murcia. They warn of the harm, they conjecture, that is involved for the sustenance of the resources. The destruction can be due to many causes. Some are caused by the construction of coastal building sites such as sporting ports. When I speak of the "dumpings", I also refer to industrial "dumpings" of underwater emissaries originating from urbanizations. It can also be due to the art of fishing, which they use on the bottom of shallow waters, which has occurred often during the art of trawling.

Fishing tuna for the farms can be another form of excessive fishing, and a form of fishing that can threaten wild tuna populations. The red tuna has been fished on the southern coast of Spain for many years, and during this time the artistries, which they have used, have been selective. They have used the fundamental fishhook. It is since the arrival of the Japanese market that everything has been complicated. Each time they are using more methods. First arrived enormous boats, more than 40 meters, with "flags of convenience", and with many more fishhooks than the boats from our region here have, which began to complicate the problem.

Along with them arrived a fleet tied to the farms greased from tuna. Initially with the presence of the huge boats from the Japanese factories, which have contributed in a very significant way to the overexploitation of the tuna. The fishermen of our region notice each time there are fewer tuna. The traditional fishing method for tuna now has less and less boats. This is also in part because each time there are fewer catches, they notice there are less tuna. However, some of the biggest problems are the quantity of tuna, which was caught for the last 15 or 20 years. The fleet of "flags of convenience" and the French fleet have been disembarking many fish from our ports or transferring to the farms a huge quantity of red tuna.

We could have checked, however, the official statistics always are accompanied by the postscripts of little reliability. The same fishermen from here alert that the major part of the fish that it disembarks or markets does not get declared. Then seeing how the capture of tuna has been evolving in last year's results. It is impossible that the reproductive bank of red tuna in the Mediterranean, which for all of our lives we have been able to fish, is going to be able to endure in the next decades a level of capture that has been produced these last years.

Do the businesses that are cultivating red tuna incriminate fishermen that fish the tuna excessively?

Some of the businesses that actually have tuna farms are exactly the same ones that during some years have served as intermediaries. Boats with "flags of convenience" were often using our ports and were fishing red tuna in the western Mediterranean. From our point of view, they have greatly contributed to the overexploitation of the red tuna. In addition some of these businesses have farms in places more fragile, which occur for example with the plants of greasy tuna. Some of these businesses from our point of view have covered up this prior stage, a larger phase of overexploitation of red tuna.

Some of these businesses now say that they have developed sustainable fishing and that all they do is transfer the tuna that the French boats fish to our coast to fatten the tuna and sell it out of its season. They say they do not contribute to overexploiting, because these tuna would be captured regardless in the same way. We think this is not so. It's not that we don't think that during the years we have been able to prove effectively that our port and these businesses were those that have moved a major quantity of red tuna for the Japanese market captured by boats with "flags of convenience". During too many years we have been day to day in the summer, coinciding with the reproduction season of red tuna as these boats were arriving to our port.

We watched how they disembarked tuna in the open sea and gathered them with heavy ships; they passed tuna from one boat to the other. Today we see exactly how those who most benefited from the business with the tuna farms are precisely some from the businesses that worked with these boats, with these "flags of convenience". The fact that these businesses have received important sums from the Spanish government, the community administration, and the European Union is perhaps the most serious concern. This assistance should have gone above all to the traditional boats, to the small boats. But there are not businesses that profit much more than the capture of tuna and contribute to the general overexploitation of the species from the Mediterranean.

What can you tell about the fear of the fishermen?

The differences in the fishing methods are huge. There is the traditional fishing with a fishhook where they only fish few tunas each draw. But with the other method, in every turn of the catch, the boats that fish tuna for the farms capture an enormous quantity of tuna from one time alone. The fishermen complain that only one boat is capable, a French boat, to fish the same amount in one day what our boats are able to fish in one year.

They say the farms pay a lot of money for live tunas and the fishermen don't have to fish excessively.

We have to take into account that many of the tunas captured die on their way to the farms. We do not know the quantity of tuna. There are no official statistics that say this quantity of fish is a dead quantity, and they throw out this quantity. If they would fish it in the traditional art of fishing, there would not be so much loss. One of the most important factors to take into account is that the traditional fisherman is a selective fisherman; he only captures a part and then sells all that he captures. All of the fish is controlled by the administration.

The portion of the fish that he captures goes to the farms and he doesn't know what happens with these fish, how many die, how many are really disembarked, there's not really a rigorous control because the fish don't pass through LONGA. The traditional fisherman has to declare everything to LONGA. The farms do not declare this fish because no one controls the exact number of tuna that the farms produce within them. When a boat captures a group of tunas, a portion die at this moment, another part goes to the farm, to the pool on the boat, which is then transferred to the farm. En route, another portion of the tuna also die, no one knows or says how many die. Another portion dies when they arrive to the farm. There is a loss of fish, which are reproducers.

It is very important to notice that the red tuna farms capture reproducing tunas. It is very important if we take into account that the level of captures, this Mediterranean reproducing bank, is being put in danger. Only one boat captures a huge part of the reproducing bank. A traditional boat captures only a very small part of the reproducing bank. If the farms were capable of fattening the tuna from a young age, from the time of fish infancy, maybe the problem would not be so big. But maybe at this point of red tuna exploitation, it would not be profitable either. To produce a kilo of tuna, 20 kilos of fish are necessary to produce a tiny tuna until it is 100 or 150 kilos. It would be necessary to have 2000, 3000, or 4000 kilos of fish. Is this sustainable? They should tell the owners of the farms. We do not think this is sustainable. Because of this, it will be very difficult someday, although they get the red tuna to reproduce, for this process to be profitable.

Can you describe the situation in which the farms are permitted to exist in fragile environments because of the government?

In reality, we have not finished understanding this. What we understand even less is that the government recognizes that these fragile places are enclosed and say that they are not places suitable for aquaculture. They don't only permit that the agriculture continues, they award assistance, official subsidies for these farms, which are located in these places. This is the only way one can understand this irresponsibility. We think that the regional administration, which is responsible for all fishing matters, is irresponsibly permitting the existence of farms in these places.

There are precedents even more serious. Not only does it currently allow farms to exist in fragile places, the administration's technicians acknowledge that these should be included as marine reserves. Unlike what happened two years ago, it allowed the existence of two illegal tuna for a whole year where they did not have permission to be. We do not understand. We prefer not to believe certain things that happen in the administration, and with the farms. We want to think that in the next years we will get those farms to leave the place where they now are, and move very far away from there. Those places, where the farms are now, will end up being what they should have always been: fishing reserves and natural reserves that can contribute to the recovery of fishing resources of such an exploited region as ours.

It is amazing that our region allows the existence of 11 farms capable of producing 12,000 tons of red tuna per year. The farms in our region could fulfill half of Europe's annual quota. Unfortunately, we think that a few businesses would like to keep the biggest piece of the cake, a very succulent cake that produces large amounts of profit and enormous benefits. The only way to make red tuna fishing in the Mediterranean profitable is if the traditional fishermen, the businesses of red tuna production, the government, and the organizations that protect the environment could all sit down at a table and discuss what is really happening here with facts and with scientific research.

We think the administration should more closely watch these enterprises, and oblige them to further obey the legislation; it must oblige them to declare all their catch. Only by knowing everything that happens will we be able to reach a definite solution for the red tuna. If not, it is possible that these enterprises that are now exploiting the tuna farms in our region will take off to Morocco, to Northern Africa, where they might not have vigilance like they can have here. Over there, perhaps, they don't have organizations for the protection of the environment that can pressure the government to oblige these enterprises to follow the law and to make them situate far from fragile areas. But most importantly, so they can have a clear control of the number of tunas that are captured.

In addition, the tuna need a reserve zone in the Mediterranean and a fair share of the quota. It is necessary that the zone of reproduction for the tuna has enough tranquility for its reproduction, if this zone changes from place to place depending on the year. It is not enough to prohibit the planes from flying; the planes will continue to fly illegally. There is a need for more control. Yet, the tuna also need a reserved area (reservoir) where they can be calm, where they can sleep and reproduce without the disturbance of these fishing arts. We could arrive to a solution to keep tuna fishing possible for years and years with all these factors, with all these series of accords. Thus, giving it a purpose, a rational exploitation like it once had perhaps during decades with the same traditional fishing arts.

Another complaint, maybe the most important complaint from the fishermen of our region, is that each year they notice the tuna are getting smaller, and each time there are fewer tuna. Each time the tuna seem smaller for which they need to fix more hooks; so it gets more costly each time to fish the same amount of tuna. It is true that many of these ships are carrying more hooks than permitted. They know that in many cases they are breaking the law, but the clear problem is that they watch each time the French ships arrive with their nets and capture entire fish banks, entire tuna banks. They cannot catch as much. It is obvious that in this situation the traditional fishermen will face more and more difficulties. A symptom of this problem is that many traditional fishermen, who used hooks to fish, now work in tuna farms.

The tuna farms think they have solved the problem and have provided jobs for them. But they don't point out that these fishermen are no longer in their boats and are solely dependent on the farms. The traditional fisherman faces the problem of no longer having enough tuna fish, since the others get it all, not to mention that the farms are taking the best sailors. This is a serious social crisis that should be addressed when considering the real impact of these tuna farms on the Mediterranean's traditional fishing practices.