After the storm: first signs of a hard recovery in Spanish ports

The importance of seafood for Spain cannot be overstated. Compared to other Europeans, Spanish people consume the most seafood, with approximately 43 kg of fish per capita annually. 

June 15, 2020

Prepared by: Paula Struk Jaia and Vanessa Eyng, Memorial University

Amidts the chaotic and challenging situation brought by the COVID-19, Spain is likely one of the most affected countries. Lockdown measures, which are gradually being relaxed, imposed a hard reality to Spanish fishers since March. Low demand, with dropped prices, kept part of the Spanish fleet still in ports, while fishers asked for more safety protocols and a proper support.

Like in other parts of the world, the lockdown measures affect small-scale fishers and millions of people who depend on fish as a source of protein. In Europe, fishers are facing logistical difficulties in ports, increased freight prices, trade restrictions with non-EU countries, loss of markets, concerns over crew safety and limited possibilities for crew rotation due to quarantine. In Spain, since the state of emergency was declared, the Spanish Fishing Sector Committee estimated losses of at least 30% in both inshore and offshore fleets, fish auction centers, distributors, and retailers.

The Spanish Fisheries Confederation (CEPESCA), the Spanish National Federation of Regional Associations of Fish and Frozen Product, and the Spanish Federation of Fishermen's Cooperatives said that the negative consequences will be felt mostly after the pandemic. Pere Gotanegra, the manager of the fishing company Pescadores de Roses, from Girona, comes from a family of artisanal fishers. His family has been fishing since 1895, and they have survived two world wars and one civil war. However, they have never experienced a situation like COVID-19. For Pere, artisanal fishers are facing two main problems: the difficulties in adapting to sanitary measurements on a boat, and the drop in the prices of fishing products.

The importance of seafood for Spain cannot be overstated. Compared to other Europeans, Spanish people consume the most seafood, with approximately 43 kg of fish per capita annually. Certain changes in consumer’s behavior, common in crises’ times, have lowered the demand of some types of fish. In northern Spain, shrimp is being sold for 10% less than its normal price. In general terms, the prices went down from around 50% to 70%. It is estimated that more than 50 000 Spanish fishers are being negatively affected.

Some good efforts to mitigate this situation are being taken. Awareness campaigns across Europe, including Spain, has emphasized the impact of the COVID-19 for small-scale fishers, encouraging local consumption. The Spanish Fisheries Confederation has created a crisis committee to monitor the situation of the fishing activity of the Spanish fleet, looking to ensure the supply of fisheries products to the population. Since the European Union issued certain sanitary measurements, Cepesca requested COVID-19 detection tests, masks, gloves and thermometers, to ensure that fishermen are able to meet those requirements. Local level examples are also found. For instance, Vigo, recognized as a city that supports small-scale fisheries, has focused in recent years on innovating and promoting its role as a "Blue Harbour", by focusing on conservation of the marine environment and improving people's socioeconomic and working conditions. During COVID-19, they are sharing experiences in how they respond to the crisis and looking for ways in which small-scale fishers can recover once the crisis ends.

In terms of government support, the Spanish Government has agreed to postpone fishing quotas not caught due to the low demand. More recently, Spain has succeeded in getting the European Union to incorporate important improvements in the regulation of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, allowing the financing of temporary stops by shipowners, crew and also seafarers. The European Union has approved emergency measures to help farmers and fishers affected by the coronavirus pandemic so that they can guarantee the food supply.

With the decreasing of COVID-19 cases and the relaxation of some of the lockdown measures, signs of recovery are being seen. From April 27 to May 3, the consumption of seafood in Spanish households went up by 4.5% for the three categories: fresh fish, frozen fish, and conserve.

In 2011, fishing and aquaculture provided 39 850 work posts equivalent to full time in Spain. The data from 2011 indicated that 13 percent of employers were women. Since 1980 Spain has been a net importer of fish and fish products. The effects of the pandemic will likely continue to have massive economic repercussions on this important sector. Now, more than ever, is the time to build a strong case for small-scale fisheries, with the implementation of redistributive economic policies, among others, facilitating therefore a just, equitable and inclusive way forward.