Sardine deadlock shows government start to crack over quotas

Bravado shown by Minister of the Sea Ana Paula Vitorino over Portugal’s 2018 sardine quotas is showing signs of cracking today after yet another scientific report has called for a total shutdown on fishing just as Brussels is due to set next year’s quotas.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has recommended zero captures of sardines for Portugal and Spain in 2018.

The organisation tasked with securing sustainable use of the seas prompted headlines earlier this summer when it recommended a 15-year ban on sardine fishing down south.

Vitorino assured horrified associations in the sector that that was not going to happen- stressing that ICES was using data that was “four years out of date”.

Portugal was committed to “intense monitoring” and would be taking care to maintain “sustainable and responsible management” of fishing policies – but sardines would not be disappearing from national dinner plates any time soon, she said

Official words today are suddenly sounding less convincing.

In a communique, the ministry has said it is “committed to maintaining sardine fishing at levels that allow recovery”.

For this “it is necessary to proceed with and reinforce sustainable and responsible management” of stocks, as “the sardine is a resource of strategic interest for national fishing, whose environmental, economic and social sustainability must be guaranteed bearing in mind the impact it has on fishing communities, the canning industry, commercial fishing, exports, gastronomy and tourism”.

At no point in the statement is there anything to say “Portugal will continue fishing sardines in 2018”.

In July, the ministry suggested IPMA would be carrying out its own analysis during the month of August, to be integrated into anything further that ICES “may recommend for October”.

So this seems to be ‘it’: the crunch moment, when fine words and guarantees meet the cold light of scientific research.

As was explained in July, environmental groups are right behind ICES.

ICES’ new report explains: “There should be zero captures in 2018” as stocks have plunged from 106,000 tons in 2006 to 22,000 in 2016.

This promises to be one heck of a fight – particularly as there are many in the sector who believe the sardine slump is down to climate change, and has nothing to do with ‘overfishing’.

The official communique from the Ministry of the Sea goes on to present three plans for ‘sardine recovery’, the first of which involves “working meetings with Spain and then with the European Commission”.

Then there is the IPMA repopulation scheme (click here), and plans to “delimit areas where it will not be possible to fish”, impose “daily and monthly catch limits” and call for an “extended sardine closure period”.

All in all, it is not looking good for hundreds of thousands of Portuguese for whom summer isn’t summer without a ‘sardinhada’ (huge sardine blow-out).

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