Sardine fishing “should be suspended in 2019”

Enjoy this summer’s supply of sardines because European scientists are determined to stop us eating them.

Today (yet again) ICES – the international council for the exploration of the Sea – has advised “there should be zero captures” of sardines in 2019.

ICES was the entity that in 2017 said there should be zero captures for 15 years (click here).

Portugal’s Minister of the Sea Ana Paula Vitorino managed to steer round the recommendation, cheered on by the nation’s fishermen, and no doubt this year too she will put her shoulder to the wheel once more and come up with some kind of compromise.

But the soundbites are gathering. This week stories announced “Portugal has run out of fish” (click here), and today’s best-selling tabloid is encouraging people to “eat mackerel” instead of sardines.

Mackerel (carapau) is apparently “an abundant species along the Portuguese coast” which is not being fished sufficiently.

Correio da Manhã suggests “half the available catch is left in the sea”, which “could amount to 20,000 tons”.

Thus how the World Wildlife Fund can say Portugal has run out of fish is a bit of a mystery.

But, forging ahead regardless, CM carries a photograph of the Minister of the Sea today looking very serious, and “appealing” for ‘carapauzadas’ (mackerel barbecues) to substitute the traditional sardine fests.

Mackerel are cheaper than sardines and every bit as nutritious, we’re informed.

So why, you might wonder, do we have to stop eating sardines (which the nation’s fishing fleet insists remain in plentiful supply)?

According to ICES they simply are not at “sustainable levels”.

If Portugal and Spain go on catching sardines, there simply won’t be any left.

ICES’ warnings are backed up by endless data, recording stocks of adult fish, and ‘juveniles’ which have dropped to “historic levels” over the last few years, 2017 witnessed the lowest of them all.

Thus the council stresses no more sardine fishing “because there is no sustainable scenario that guarantees recuperation of the species by 2020”.

Fishing syndicates haven’t pronounced yet on this news – and they won’t be happy. The industry has already been banned from sardine fishing for months this year (January through to May) and since then catches have been strictly limited.

Meantime, you will be hard-pressed to find any Portuguese adult willing to give up eating sardines. They are as much a part of people’s summers and the beach and “bolas de Berlim”.

One detail to cling onto, says Público, is that while marine resources are regulated by the European Union “and not left to Member States, sardine quotas are an exception, and are delegated to Portugal and Spain”.

“Brussels has the power to revoke the decisions of the two countries on quotas but to avoid this scenario Portugal and Spain have (in the past) based their fishing limits on ICES’ reports”.

In other words, it really is all down to the negotiating wiles of our Minister of the Sea. No wonder she is looking so serious.

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