The best laid plans

Sardine catches have started to rise again in Portugal after a temporary ban in 2015/16 Sardine catches have started to rise again in Portugal after a temporary ban in 2015/16

Portugal is investing heavily in improving its fisheries and in a strategy that will help it become more sustainable over the long-term. Adrian Tatum reports.

Portugal has a plan for its fisheries. Ever since the introduction of its National Strategy for the Sea (ENM) in 2012, which presented a new development model for the ocean and associated industries, there has been a long-term plan in place that moves towards a forward-thinking, sustainable and inclusive growth strategy for the fishing sector. This was designed to help Portuguese fishermen through one of the most challenging times in the sector, including changes to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) as well as to “tackle the challenges brought about by the growth, promotion and competitiveness of the industry”, according to its National Strategy for the Sea.

The availability of EU structural grants for anyone working in any industry connected with the ocean via the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) has placed a greater emphasis on prioritising the aims, challenges and opportunities for the fisheries sector.

The European Commission has adopted a key investment package for the Portuguese maritime, fisheries and aquaculture sectors. Approximately €506m is available under the EMFF until 2020.

Overall, it aims to support investments in fisheries, aquaculture and processing industries that boost competitiveness and sustainability. This includes adjusting the capacity of the Portuguese fleet to available resources, reducing energy consumption, promoting innovation and increasing sustainability in the aquaculture sector. Funding will also focus on helping producer organisations to better organise themselves. The programme will also support Portuguese public bodies in enforcing CFP rules and providing sound data for the management of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors.

It is expected that over the next few years approximately €500,00 to €1m alone will be awarded to fund specific projects related to marine biotechnology. Aquaculture is a steady growth area. In 2013, the Portuguese aquaculture sector comprised of 1,443 farms employing 2,572 workers.

The Portuguese aquaculture industry produces marine finfish species and shellfish. Marine fish production accounted for more than 57% of the total sales value in 2013. The main cultured marine species are sea bream, sea bass and turbot. In 2013, Portuguese aquaculture production totalled 10,300 tonnes and €58.8m in value. At the moment it represents less than 6% of the total catch but is growing significantly around the country and EU funding as well as investments will ensure its growth as a sector for many years. That investment will be aimed at increasing the efficiency of aquaculture units, promotion of aquaculture products in new markets and the development of maritime spatial planning.

According to The Department for Natural Resources, Security and Maritime (DGRM) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Sea, by 2023 aquaculture activities are expected to treble, contributing to food supply, environmental protection and employment. It says that good environmental and climatic conditions, spatial planning and clear identification of available areas (both offshore and in lagoons), skilled human resources, and access to the country’s research facilities are the main factors that can boost the aquaculture sector.

In the last few years €1.9m of EU funding has been spent on expanding the area for mussels from 44 hectares to 161 hectares. The project increased the area by occupying three sea-bottom parcels, approximately 570m long and 550m wide, and enlarging the offshore structure that the company already operates. The new structure includes 42 longlines, each with a length of 420m. The project was estimated to have an annual production of about 4,200 tonnes of mussels and is also expected to create 14 jobs.

One the country’s biggest retailers, Jeronimo Martins and Portuguese company Marisland Mederia Mariculture have recently joined forces to launch a major new aquaculture project. The two companies will breed sea bream and also invest in a new factory which will handle 550 tonnes a year.

In fact, the Portuguese are taking the ‘business of the sea’ very seriously. The Business Forum of the Economy of the Sea is a business association set up to help highlight the importance of the marine sector to the nation’s economy. It is also there to help support and contribute towards improving the sustainable development of Portuguese waters as well as promote a common and integrated strategy of activities related to the marine sector and, once again, link back to the marine sector delivering a boost to the national economy.

But like all fishing nations, Portugal faces challenges in terms of its sustainability, at both biological and economic level. The poor state of some commercial fish stocks (in particular pelagic and demersal stocks) has resulted in low fishing production for the Portuguese fleet and low incomes for the sector. In addition, the risk of a further reduction of fishing stocks due to the potential increase of fishing pressure, but also due to changing climate conditions, highlights the need for effective intervention in the fisheries sector’s approach to management.

Again, Portuguese fishermen are being supported through EU funding on their journey towards focusing on available fishing resources, using more selective fishing gear, fleet modernisation, the protection of marine resources, and the establishment of marine protected areas and the modernisation of fishing infrastructures such as landing sites, ports and shelters, to try and achieve sustainable management of the fisheries sector at biological, environmental and economic level.

The Department for Natural Resources, Security and Maritime (DGRM) has indicated its priorities at the moment are; promoting environmentally sustainable, resource-efficient, innovative and competitive aquaculture sector alongside the successful implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy. There will also be a focus on the fishing communities in Portugal, of which there are many. According to the DGRM, the main challenges facing Portuguese fishermen are creating more jobs and new sources of income as well as enhancing environmental assets and promoting social and economic wellbeing. There will also be investments over the next few years in new or improved seafood processing products, processes, new technology, management systems and marketing tools and measures (labelling related to environmental sustainability, and promotional campaigns) for fisheries and aquaculture products. In addition, incentives will be given for the establishment of fisheries producer organisations that aim to improve the existing organisational structures and ensure optimal management of marketing of seafood products.

Also, one of the new elements in the EU structural funds for maritime and fisheries, is aimed at providing funding to fishermen to help implement the Common Fisheries Policy, with one of the areas of focus being to strengthen fisheries control and enforcement in Portuguese waters, as well as improving the level of scientific data and the collection and management of that data.

However, despite some level of investment, it is still tough going in the industry. But 1 May this year marked an important day for fishermen in Portugal as many of the country’s sardine vessels went back to work after months of bans in the fishery. At the time, Portuguese Minister of the Sea, Ana Paula Vitorino, said she was very confident that Portugal could see the sardine quota currently authorised by Brussels being increased again. From August 2015, some sardine fishermen in Portuguese ports were banned from catching sardines after reaching their quotas.
In January this year the sardine fishermen were issued with a full blanket ban to allow the species to reproduce. Fishermen and vessel owners affected by the stoppage received a total of €2.71m in compensation.

MSC certification
In 2014 the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) announced the suspension of the Portuguese sardine purse seine fishery following a fourth surveillance audit report on the fishery.

The MSC is the world's most widely-recognised sustainable seafood certification programme. Independent auditors evaluate fisheries against the MSC environmental standard for sustainable fishing, which has three principles that every fishery must prove it meets: sustainable fish stocks, minimising environmental impact and effective fishery management.

According to the surveillance report, the fishery no longer complies with the minimum requirements of Principle 1 of the MSC standard - sustainable fish stocks. This principle demands that the fishing activity must be at a level which is sustainable for the fish population. This was the second time the fishery has failed an annual surveillance audit since it was first certified. In both cases the suspension was due to low Iberian sardine stock levels. Despite efforts made by the fishery and the Portuguese institutions in favour of sustainable management, stocks did not recover at the rate expected.

Certification was originally suspended in January 2012 after the audit team found that sardine stocks were below the biomass limit level. In response to the suspension, the Sardine Commission, chaired by DGRM and composed of representatives from the fishery (Anopcerco), Docapesca (a government agency overseen by the Portuguese Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, the Environment and Territorial Planning), scientific agency IPMA, and ANICP (the Portuguese Association of Seafood Canning Industries), agreed on the measures to be taken to recover certification status. This included a drastic reduction in landings and collaborating with the Spanish government in developing a joint action plan.

The proposed plan has been evaluated by ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea), which concluded that the plan is provisionally precautionary. The January 2013 surveillance audit found that the fishery had satisfactorily met the milestones established for the suspension, sardine stocks had recovered and the management plan was considered to be sufficiently robust. Accordingly, MSC certification was then re-established.

But, the subsequent ICES 2013 and 2014 reports showed that sardine biomass levels are still relatively close to the minimum values recorded in 2012. Accordingly, and in addition to the fact that no evidence was found to show that the management plan was being effective or achieving its objectives within the given timeframes, the fourth surveillance audit, conducted in February 2014, led to the suspension of MSC certification.

The fishery affected by the suspension is the Portuguese sardine purse seine fishery, represented by Anopcerco. When the fishery was certified in January 2010 it was composed by a fleet of 128 boats with a production of approximately 55,000 tonnes. Anopcerco was the first fishery to obtain MSC certification in the Iberian Peninsula. The full assessment process was sponsored by the canning association ANICP, who have marketed MSC-ecolabelled products from Anopcerco in more than 14 countries, particularly the UK, Austria and the Netherlands. MSC certification has fostered closer collaboration between fishers, scientific agency IPMA, the canning industry and the Portuguese government. Working together, they have undertaken major efforts to establish references and rules for the control of the activity, following the conditions established in the certification report.

Following the work with MSC, in 2014, the Portuguese government has issued a decree prohibiting all deep-sea fishing - with the exception of longlining, which is authorised under certain conditions - in an area spanning 2,280,000km2, to promote sustainable fisheries and the conservation of deep-sea ecosystems in general.

Portugal has improved its overall fisheries quotas during 2016 to the delight of every stakeholder in the industry. It achieved an overall increase of 11.4% in its 2016 quota for national waters. The original proposal on the table was for a decrease of 61% for hake, amended to 25%, for monkfish there now is a reduction of 10% instead of the 19% proposed.

This year €27m has also been invested by the Portuguese government into the fish processing sector, to help make it more competitive. Just last month, applications to access the funds were being submitted. The investment in this area is aimed at improving the competitiveness of companies and organisations within the processing sector with a particular emphasis on promoting energy efficiency, encouraging innovation and product promotion as well as an improvement of production processes.


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