Spain loves seafood, but pulling large numbers of fish and other seafood out of the oceans, presents many environmental problems. These problems include lack of sustainability, the effects of fishing on other marine organisms, and the pollution produced by aquaculture, the alternative farming method used as a source of seafood.
At 15, 000 strong, Spain has the largest fishing fleet in Europe. It certainly packs decent part of the punch that our oceans are feeling from overfishing. A November 2006 article in the journal Science, states that at our current rate of destruction, we will run out of a sustainable supply of seafood by the year 2048. One specific example of a population that has almost completely been wiped out is that of the Cantabrian anchovies, which are found in the Bays of Biscay. In the 1990s over 80,000 tons were caught each year, but at the end of the 2006 fishing season, only 200 tons had been caught! Researchers say that the only way this species can make a comeback, is if there is a complete ban on its harvest.
Commercially harvested fish aren’t the only sea inhabitants that are harmed by the seafood industry. Unfortunately, dolphin, sea turtles, and sea birds are also affected by the methods and effects of the harvest. Dolphins that swim with tuna are often caught in the tuna nets, and consequently drown. In 2000, the U.S. banned banned tuna from Spain because they do not meet dophin-safe regulations. The main threat to sea turtles is being caught as bycatch in certain types of fishing gear. Certain types of fishing lines and nets also reduce populations of seabirds, such as albatrosses and petrels. Luckily, recent efforts have been made by Spain to integrate the use of fishing methods that are safer for these animals.
Water pollution created by the demands for seafood is another major environmental problem that is being faced by the country of Spain. The fuel of fishing ships pollutes ocean waters and the nutrient-rich runoff from fish farms pollutes shorelines and freshwater streams and rivers.
Unfortunately, the government of Spain is unable to do a lot about the pressure that it is putting on the ocean. Many citizens and even the national government realize that there is a problem, but because of the organization of the Spanish government, it’s been hard to put protective laws in place. Spain’s regional governments are very powerful, and because of this, the national government has been able to point fingers, but do very little to change the laws.
A Family Affair
Photograph by Randy Olson
In northern Spain, the fishing family of María José Novoa Villarejo enjoys mussels and other seafood. Whether her children will choose to make their living through fishing is, for the first time, an open question.
Picture and caption from National Geopgraphic Magazine, April 2007