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"Spain Threatens Tuna Stocks" Pacific Island Nations, November 5, 13

Small Island states in the Pacific are trying to develop a more sustainable tuna fishery. But the European Union (read Spain) does not like the idea, they say.
Spain acts like an old-fashioned ‘conquistador’ and uses the power of the European Union in its attempts to get forced-access to the last remaining large tuna stocks in the world. The negotiations by the fourteen Pacific island states about licenses for the Europeans to fish tuna in their waters once again ended in a deadlock. According to these states, the Spanish tuna fleet uses the EU negotiators to break up their new scheme of sustainable fisheries, by totally ignoring it.


The tuna conflict in the Pacific may seem a marginal affair on first sight, but major interests are at stake. About 60 percent of the global tuna catch takes place in this region, representing a turnover of billions of euros. The EU is the biggest consumer market for tuna in the world. The Spanish fleet, which is closely connected to the Spanish canning industry, up to now mainly fishes in other oceans, but is eager to get access to the Central and Western Pacific.

The island states have been working on a joint system to make the tuna fisheries in their combined waters more sustainable. This system, Vessel Day Scheme (VDS), consists of selling licenses to foreign fleets allowing them to fish only a certain amount of days. The idea of the VDS is to generate more local income from the tuna catch by these foreign fleets and at the same time manage the existing stocks in a more sustainable way.

The EU-Directorates for Fisheries and Trade, though, refuse to negotiate with the regional authorities because they say the Vessel Day Scheme does not work. Instead they try to close deals with the individual island states. According to the small states, it is totally against the spirit of their regional cooperation to make fisheries more sustainable and threatens to blow up the entire fishery management system they jointly set up.

In order to force entry for the Spanish fleet into their waters is, according to the island states, the European Partnership Agreements (EPA) are now being used as a wrench. Negotiations on EPA’s -already dragging on since 2004- should provide the Pacific island states advantageous trade access to the European market, due to their status as developing countries.

Last week, the delegation of the island states turned back to the Pacific empty-handed, after the latest round of negotiating in Brussels ended up in a hassle-like atmosphere without any result. ‘The EU uses dirty tactics’, according to one member of the delegation, who described the EU-attitude as ‘arrogant and neo-colonial’. ‘It is common knowledge that the EU-fleet is cleaning the oceans of every fish where ever they go. Now they are exporting their own failing fisheries management to the Pacific.’ Not without a touch of irony the involved negotiators are pointing out that just recently a million dollar penalty was imposed on the Spanish tuna vessel Albacora Uno, because it was caught fishing illegally in the waters of the Pacific island state of Nauru.
In the European Parliament, where last week the future European fisheries policy was debated, the EU negotiating tactics on Pacific tuna fisheries did not go unnoticed and lead to raised eyebrows. ‘As European citizen and consumer I like to eat sustainable tuna’, says Isabella Lövin member of the EU parliament for of the Swedish Green Party. She thinks the VDS, though certainly apt for improvement, is still an exceptional and worthy initiative to manage the tuna stock in a more sustainable way. ‘You should expect that the EU, being the most important financial donor and consumer market, would give in particular its support to these kind of policies.’