An essential move for the Balearic Islands

the Marilles Foundation works to make the Balearics a global example of marine conservation. Fishing, both professional and recreational, has a significant impact on marine resources and is governed by a multitude of rules that must be respected by different groups and controlled by different administrations.

Although most fishermen respect the rules, fishing offenses are unfortunately numerous and varied. Illegal catches and sales of fish, by both professional and recreational fishers, including spearfishers, seriously erode marine conservation efforts.

Although some believe that illegal fishing will never be eradicated, we are determined to solve this problem. The Marilles Foundation, in coordination with the Mallorca-Ibiza–Minorca and Blue preservation funds, has worked to build the foundations of a medium-term project to put an end to illegal fishing in the Balearic Sea, a task which we know will be neither short nor easy.

Earlier this year we ordered a investigative journalist map illegal practices and violations related to fishing activity taking place at sea and on land. The results of this survey reveal that infringements are common in all fishing sectors and are often fueled by a demand for fresh fish from restaurants and consumers who are co-responsible as they buy fish from poachers or fish which did not go through legal channels and which should never have been sold. Preliminary results of the survey have been shared with representatives of professional, recreational and spearfishing fishers, monitoring and control agencies, restaurants, NGOs and research organizations. The results show that the artisanal fleet is more likely to divert catches to the illegal market than the trawler fleet which is easier to control. Yet there are reports of trawlers fishing in areas where they are not permitted. There is a small fraction of recreational fishermen who live from fishing and selling fish that they are not allowed to sell. They often use whatsapp groups to notify where the fishing inspection/monitoring is taking place so they can land their catch undetected.

More than half of the restaurants consulted were offered illegal fish and/or know of other restaurants that sell illegal fish. We learned that spearfishing catches are threaded to remove the spear mark and that in some restaurants legal fish bills can provide a “cover” for illegal frozen fish. Proving that an offense has been committed is complex and must be done rigorously. The support of citizens sharing valuable confidential information is essential to make inspections more effective.

Some of the obstacles encountered include insufficient supervision at sea; difficulty in accessing satellite data indicating the position of professional vessels; and insufficient inspections both on land (in ports, auctions and restaurants) and in the recreational fishing sector. Other significant issues are the fact that violation reports do not always lead to sanctions, that it is difficult to report a relative and that, in a relatively small island, control/inspection personnel are easy to to acknowledge.

Among the solutions identified that were supported by most of the groups consulted, is the need for a detailed study that helps us fill in the main information gaps, such as having a good estimate of unreported recreational and professional fishing catches. The need to allocate more resources to monitoring and control emerges as one of the main priorities to be addressed along with consumer and restaurant campaigns aimed at making the purchase of illegal fish socially unacceptable; and implementing certification and labeling systems that help consumers recognize legally caught fish. The implementation of “green boxes” in the artisanal fleet (a small device that gives the position of the vessel at all times) already underway in Ibiza and Formentera and which will soon be extended to other islands will contribute to improving transparency and conformity.

Build a critical mass of anglers (recreational and professional) and restaurants who want to do it right and make sure their voice is heard will be essential to successfully solve this problem.

End illegal fishing (and illegal fish sales!) in the Balearic Islands is essential to provide healthy and vibrant seas. Watch this space for more as this project unfolds over the next few years.