Spain: Ensuring sustainability in the face of climate change

by Thomas Jensen
María Isabel Artime García

Mitigation measures must take social and economic factors into account

This article was featured in Eurofish Magazine 2 2024.

The Secretariat General for Fisheries in the Spanish Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food is responsible for the EU’s largest national fisheries sector. Headed by Isabel Artime García, the Secretary General, the office has a vast number of responsibilities related to fisheries and aquaculture, both freshwater and marine. Ms Artime García is well positioned to deal with these issues having spent almost 17 years in the ministry in different roles before being appointed to her current position. She speaks here about some of the challenges the fisheries sector faces and how the ministry is supporting the development and implementation of solutions.

The Spanish fishing fleet with close to 8,700 vessels is among the largest in the EU. The average age of vessels is almost 35 years. Adapting EU fishing fleets to the demands of the energy transition is in line with EU policies including the European Green Deal and Fit for 55 (which aims to reduce EU emissions by at least 55% by 2030). How is the decarbonisation of the Spanish fishing fleet to be achieved?

Spain is committed to the energy transition process, which necessarily needs to encompass all economic activities, including the fishing industry. This transition, as outlined in the Fit for 55 strategy, must be fair and socially just, essential aspects when dealing with a sector like fishing that is crucial for food supply and preserving the social and economic structure of many coastal areas. In these regions, fishing serves not only as an economic engine but is also deeply rooted in their culture and tradition. During the Spanish presidency of the European Union, the informal meeting of Fisheries Ministers held in July 2023 in Vigo focused precisely on the need to define a common strategy for decarbonising the European fishing fleet.

During this meeting, the European Economic and Social ­Committee (EESC) presented the conclusions of a report requested by Spain on applicable measures for the decarbonisation of the EU fishing fleet. The opinion concludes that there is currently no technological alternative that can be practically applied to different fleets. It emphasises the need to implement a suitable and realistic decarbonisation schedule aligned with technological, logistical, and legislative advancements. Thus, measures for the decarbonisation of fishing activities must ensure sustainability and profitability, considering the heterogeneity and peculiarities of the Spanish fishing sector. The strategy for decarbonising the fishing fleet should therefore focus on short-term measures to improve energy efficiency, reducing emissions from fishing activities. Simultaneously, medium and long-term measures should be implemented to incorporate the technological upgrade necessary for achieving a zero-emission fishing sector.

The 2023 annual report from APROMAR, the Aquaculture Business Association of Spain, mentions that drought is affecting farmed fish production in rivers. What are the avenues available to freshwater aquaculture farmers who are affected by droughts or floods. Has the ­ministry measures in place to assist these producers?

Freshwater/continental aquaculture is deeply rooted in certain rural areas of Spain, with the regions of Castilla y León, Galicia, and Extremadura having the highest ­number of installations and production. The main species ­produced include rainbow trout, sturgeon, and tench. This sector generates employment and contributes positively to the ­development of rural areas. The General Secretariat of Fisheries (SGP) is particularly concerned about the negative impact of drought on freshwater aquaculture development. Drought implies increased production costs and reduced production, resulting in significant losses for aquaculturists, job losses, and increased prices for consumers. The SGP has raised this issue in regular meetings with the European Commission and EU Member States.

Spain has stated that aquaculture is a strategic sector that needs ­minimum ecological flows to develop and that its water usage is non-consumptive. At the national level, as part of the new aquaculture strategy and Spain‘s contribution to the strategic guidelines for a more sustainable and competitive EU aquaculture for 2021-2023, there is a line of work aimed at facilitating access to space and water. This involves coordinated efforts with other administrations (Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge and autonomous communities) and the sector. Also, within the framework of the new aquaculture strategy and the national climate change adaptation plan, efforts are underway to diagnose and assess the risks associated with climate change in current and future continental aquaculture zones. This includes identifying which areas will be most favourable for the future development of continental aquaculture, considering their exposure to drought.

Finally, it is worth emphasising that aquaculture, in this context of climate and environmental crisis, once again emerges as an ­alternative for producing food with a low water footprint.

Despite the proven health benefits and the climate friendliness of fish and seafood, over the last several years consumption of these products has declined in Spain. What do you attribute this development to? And how can the ministry contribute to reversing it?

While Spain remains at the forefront of the EU in terms of fish and aquaculture product consumption, data show a steady decline in recent years, particularly in the consumption of fresh and frozen products. This decline is not adequately compensated by increases in canned and processed product consumption. This trend is concerning not only for its impact on the sector but also because fish is an exceptionally high-quality product with excellent nutritional properties. The reduction in consumption can be attributed to various factors, including consumer perceptions, particularly among younger demographics, the short shelf life of fresh products, purchasing power, and contemporary lifestyles.

Promoting fish consumption is one of the ministry‘s objectives. Therefore, these factors are being studied to emphasise product variety, gastronomic value, and health benefits in campaigns. The aim is to attract consumers and reinforce their confidence in fish and aquaculture products. Thanks to institutional campaigns by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food, Spanish foods and seafood products are featured in various media channels. These campaigns have evolved from initially focusing on generic promotion under hashtags like “#Explore, #Taste, #Share, and #Enjoy” to slogans like “Have you had fish today?” emphasising the richness, healthfulness, and safety of fish. The current campaign, “Spain, the richest country in the world,” utilises the specific slogan for fishing: “A country abundant in sea products and recipes.”

Apart from public sector initiatives, it‘s understood that the ­success of efforts to improve consumer product knowledge and market positioning depends on a committed and active sector. Collective efforts are crucial for this task. The General Secretariat of Fisheries has strongly supported the promotion of these professional organisations, especially producer organisations and their associations, and interprofessional organisations. Since 2014, producer organisations have conducted various promotional and communication campaigns aimed at consumers as part of their production and marketing plans. These campaigns aim to improve consumer perception and image of seafood products by enhancing product knowledge. Examples include APROMAR‘s “Raising from Our Seas” campaign and campaigns by the recently formed association, Pesca España.

The success of these campaigns, like other measures included in plans to achieve the objectives of the common fisheries policy, underscores the continued ­support for producer organisations. Hence, in 2023, legislation regulating producer organisations was modified to ensure the continuity of such fundamental initiatives to improve fish marketing. Additionally, efforts have been made to encourage producers to join producer organisations, enabling a growing segment of the sector to benefit from European aid and implement measures to enhance their product marketing.

In the Mediterranean 58% of the stocks are still fished outside biologically sustainable limits. For Spain, the Mediterranean is an important fishing area supporting over a quarter of Spanish fishing vessels and generating 14% of the total catch value. As the leading fishing nation in Europe how does Spain contribute to improving Mediterranean stocks’ status?

Firstly, I would like to go back to the communication from the ­European Commission made in June of last year regarding fishing possibilities, from which important conclusions can be drawn about the situation of Mediterranean stocks. This communication highlights the fact that fishing mortality has reached its lowest recorded value in recent years, while biomass shows a very notable and uninterrupted improvement over the last decade, reaching the highest levels of biomass in the historical series. These indicators are encouraging, especially considering that the measures implemented by the Multiannual Plan for Demersal Fisheries in the Mediterranean have not yet been fully evaluated. These measures have led to a significant reduction in fishing effort days and the ­implementation of additional measures, such as various fishing closures.


These improvements undoubtedly result from the considerable effort made by the fishing sector itself, as well as the collaborative work of administrations and the scientific sector. However, we must continue working in this direction and adopt new measures to try to achieve the main objective of the EU regulation to achieve maximum sustainable yield by January 1, 2025, for species where it has not yet been achieved, such as hake, always considering the social and economic aspects of sustainability as well. All this reaffirms our task of collecting data on the impact of these measures, and especially in the approach we advocate in fisheries management; that is, the balance and progressiveness of the measures to be taken, which allow maintaining the social and economic cohesion that fishing represents in our country.

In this regard, Spain has led the implementation of alternative measures to ensure this social and economic cohesion, along with biological sustainability, proposing alternatives to continuous decreases in fishing days. ­Specifically, following scientific recommendations, we have strongly advocated for improving fishing selectivity, something that has already been recognised in recent European regulations that have governed the implementation of fishing effort regimes in the Mediterranean. It has been acknowledged as one of the measures that mitigates proposed decreases in fishing effort days.

Internationally, Spain supports the strengthening and support of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), an FAO body where management and regulation standards for fisheries in the Mediterranean and Black Sea are adopted, giving ­special relevance to the sub-regional approach. In this sense, Spain has supported the creation of the GFCM Office for the Western Mediterranean, based in Malaga and operational since October 2020, where common interest issues affecting this area can be addressed more specifically through joint work with neighbouring countries.

Furthermore, Spain was a pioneer with the first FAO fisheries cooperation project in the Mediterranean in 1995 through the COPEMED Project, whose second phase COPEMED II ended in 2022, representing overall progress in improving training and institutional reinforcement to support GFCM actions as a regional fisheries management body.

Likewise, we have supported various GFCM programmes and strategies through voluntary contributions initiated in 2013, which currently amount to an annual contribution of almost €100,000 to the “2030 Strategy of the GFCM for Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture in the Mediterranean and Black Sea.” This aims to promote ­responsible fishing and ­aquaculture, in line with the objectives of the MedFish4Ever Ministerial Declaration and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 of the 2030 Agenda: “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.”

One of the points on Spain’s EMFAF programme is to increase by 2030 marine protected areas in national waters from 13% to 30% in alignment with European Commission plans for sustainable fisheries. Declaring a marine area as protected is only part of the solution equally important is to monitor and control the policy. How do you ensure that declaration and enforcement go side by side? What will be the effect of this measure on the Spanish fishing fleet and how can negative effects be mitigated?

In the current context, it is essential to ensure the integration of the environmental dimension into fisheries policy and vice versa, facilitating the interaction of both policies to enhance and strengthen the aspects and objectives they have in common, such as having healthy oceans and seas, without which there is no future for fishing. Moreover, only by coordinating fisheries and ­environmental ­policies will the ­regulations emanating from them be coherent and not overlap. The General Secretariat of Fisheries (SGP) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food (MAPA) is involved in the declaration of marine protected areas, as well as their management and monitoring.

Currently, one of MAPA‘s ­priorities is to reinforce the establishment and management of Fisheries Interest Marine Reserves, which originated over 38 years ago with the establishment of Tabarca Island. This is a specific category of space protection that emerged under fisheries regulations and aims at the regeneration and protection of fishery resources and, therefore, their habitat, as well as the maintenance of traditional fisheries.

Fishery protection zones are regulated in the current Sustainable Fishing and Fisheries Research Act of 2023, based on the best available scientific information and considering socio-economic studies. Currently, there are 12 marine reserves declared and managed by MAPA, covering an area of ​​103,000 hectares of ­offshore waters, of which 10% are integral reserves, meaning they have the highest level of protection, with MAPA allocating more than 4 million euros annually for the management of these areas. On the other hand, MAPA is involved in the declaration, management, and monitoring of all marine protected areas declared under environmental regulations, through close coordination with the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge (MITERD). Thus, each ministerial department exercises its competencies in each of the areas.
In accordance with the above, MAPA establishes limitations or prohibitions on fishing activity in the offshore waters of Protected Natural Areas and protected areas of the Natura 2000 Network, as established by Article 26 of the Sustainable Fishing and Fisheries Research Act of March 17, 2023, while MITERD regulates spaces within its competencies. Thanks to this joint management, fisheries and environmental policies are aligned and coherent, ensuring sustainable fishing activity.

Among the issues faced by the fisheries sector is the ageing of the workforce as workers get older and younger people are not attracted to the profession due to the working conditions, levels of remuneration, or a lack of interest. What measures is the administration considering to reverse this trend?

We trust that, over the next few years, the European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) 2021-2027 will allow us to address the challenges of fishing, particularly those related to the training of its professionals and the promotion of generational turnover. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food has included in the new EMFAF Programme for Spain, approved in November 2022, priorities such as training, improvement of working conditions on ships and on land, and the promotion of entry into the fishing sector for young fishermen and women, with the aim of reversing the described trend. Thus, grants are envisaged to facilitate the training of individuals under 40, the embarkation of recent graduates, and the first acquisition of a fishing vessel. Additionally, efforts are also aimed at promoting the creation of new business opportunities and fostering the entrepreneurial capacity of professionals, especially young people and women, as well as encouraging their participation in the sustainable development of fishing areas, ultimately increasing the employment rate in the sector for these groups to ensure the future continuity of this activity.

Furthermore, the General ­Secretariat of Fisheries, within the framework of the Social Affairs Commission (CAASS) of the Advisory Council of the Fishing Sector, has prepared a foundational ­document entitled “Training and generational turnover in the fishing sector: context and actions”, taking as a reference the European Parliament Resolution of September 16, 2021, “on future fishermen: measures to attract a new generation of workers to the fishing sector and generate employment in coastal communities”. With this document, the aim is to outline the actions to be developed in coordination with the Autonomous Communities and all stakeholders in the fishing and aquaculture sector, aimed at tackling the challenge of attracting a new generation of fishermen.

Women are an important part of the Spanish fishing and aquaculture sector accounting for about 15% of the workforce. They also have their own associations and representative bodies. How does the administration support women working in the sector in their quest for greater acknowledgement and involvement in decision making?

Taking a global quantitative assessment, if we add to that 15% percentage the rest of the activities not included in the Special Sea Regime (such as the processing industry, marketing, or inland aquaculture), female employment in the overall fishing and aquaculture sector accounts for almost 36% of the total, which in turn represents almost 45,000 female workers.

The General Secretariat of Fisheries has promoted the creation and maintenance of the Spanish ­Network of Women in the Fishing Sector, whose goal is to boost the role of women in the sector, as well as organisation, communication, and the exchange of initiatives and best practices among women who work or wish to work in the fishing field, in any of its various areas. The network provides visibility and strengthens the work carried out by the different women‘s groups in the sector, as well as organisations dedicated to promoting equal opportunities in this area of activity.

Furthermore, this commitment is reinforced with other actions, among which I would highlight:

• The development of the II Gender Equality Plan in the Fishing and Aquaculture Sector 2021-2027, which continues the previous sectorial equality plan 2015-2020.
• Support for the associative movement of women professionals in the sea through various actions such as the latest congress of the Spanish Network of Women in the Fishing Sector held on the island of La Palma.
• The integration and development of the horizontal principle of equality in the EMFAF Programme 2021-2027, including specific measures that women in the sector can benefit from, which affect aspects such as visibility or the promotion of participation in decision-making bodies of the fishing and aquaculture sector.
• The introduction in the new Sustainable Fishing and Fisheries Research Law of reducing coefficients for the retirement age for professions such as “neskatillas,” net makers, and packers, and the equalisation of coefficients for women shellfish gatherers on foot with those for shellfish gatherers at sea, which represents recognition of the hard work traditionally carried out predominantly by women.

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