Sardine ban ‘won’t see light of day’, government assures

After the shock report published last week recommending Portugal impose a 15-year ban on the fishing of sardines to give stocks time to return to “acceptable levels”, sanity has been restored.

There will be no blanket ban, the government has assured.

In a statement issued against the backdrop of national stupification, the ministry of the sea, headed by Ana Paula Vitorino said:

“The government maintains precautionary management of sardine resources with the help and advice of competent scientific organisations”.

Whether this was a dig at the competence of ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea that suggested the ban, was left open to interpretation.

The statement continued that measures in place include “monthly and periodic limits on daily captures” as well as “extended periods of prohibition”.

These will continue along with “intense monitoring” of sardine development to ensure their “sustainable and responsible management”.

Cultural, socio-economic and environmental impacts will also be taken into account in an industry that has become synonymous with the image of Portugal, both at home and abroad.

Meantime, the uproar over ICES’ recommendation is still reverberating over the horizon.

“Absolutely unthinkable”, “unbelievable” and “apocalyptic” were just some of the reactions from leaders of fishing associations.

Once they had reeled in their composure and been assured the scenario would never happen, fishing bosses were quick to explain that ICES’ report failed, in their opinion, to ‘join the dots’.

“We simply do not understand it”, said Humberto Jorge of the national association of trawling fishermen. “How did we get to this hugely pessimistic, if not apocalyptic scenario from the relatively positive situation last year, where stocks were seen to have slightly increased on the basis of recommendations from the year before?”

“We have accepted the problem and reduced sardine fishing over the last 10 years to historic minimums”, he added.

“But it is also a fact that we have seen a permanent stabilisation of the biomass, with even an improvement along the Portuguese coast this year”.

In other words, what (the heck) is ICES talking about?

For Castro e Melo, secretary general of the national association of fish canning industries, the organisation that involves 150 ‘expert groups’ was looking at the problem from the wrong side of the boat.

The reason sardine stocks have reduced has nothing to do with ‘excessive fishing’, and everything to do with climate change, he told reporters.

Even if Portugal was to adopt the 15-year ban – to the detriment of “goodness knows how many factories and jobs” – the situation at the end would almost certainly be the same.

“Stopping for 15 or 20 years, or not stopping at all, will see the same results”, he guaranteed.

Minister of the Sea Ana Paula Vitorino added that ICES’ data for the study was four years out-of-date.

The next step will see IPMA carrying out its own analysis during the month of August, to be integrated into anything further that ICES may recommend for the October ‘showdown’ in Brussels when next year’s fishing quotas will be set.

As national media explained last year, Portugal had to battle to get the original 2017 quota of 1,584 tons raised to 17,000 tons.

Meantime, environmentalists appear ‘sold’ on ICES’ dismal forecast.

Sustainability platform PONG-Pesca maintains there is “no avoiding scientific facts”.

Quercus, part of PONG, says Portugal should adopt the 15-year ban – and focus on the industry’s need to ‘find alternatives’ to the signature sardine.

For now, it is a question of ‘wait till October’ and hope that IPMA’s August study brings some cheer.

If not, the Minister of the Sea will have another major sardine quota battle on her hands, with environmental groups looking unlikely to lend any support.

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