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Archivio Emma Bonino commissario UE
The European - 9 giugno 1995

9 giugno 1995


di Julie Read


SOMMARIO. Cronache della guerra del tonno da anni latente nel golfo di Biscaglia, e della possibile esplosione, anche questa estate, della crisi tra le diverse marinerie, quando il 1 giugno arriveranno i branchi. Gli spagnoli accusano i francesi e gli inglesi di usare reti fuori legge, mentre questi ultimi denunciano che gli spagnoli, con la loro gigantesca flotta, mettono in atto sofisticate tecnologie che rendono non competitivo ogni altro sistema. La Commissaria europea Emma Bonino ha annunciato che prenderà posto su un battello di controllo, per avere il polso della situazione.

The European Commission is to monitor fleets as they follow the annual tuna migration, writes Julie Read

The Bay of Biscay is uncommonly calm at present, but no one knows whether it is only a prelude to more political storms as Spanish fishermen prepare to take on their counterparts from France, Britain and Ireland in pursuit of the fastrunning shoals of tuna.

The European Commission and the various national authorities are confident that this summer they can prevent a replay of last year's Tuna Wars on the high seas. We shall soon discover whether their optimism is misplaced.

The first days of June herald the annual arrival of the tuna, as the fish make their journey from the Azores northeast through the Bay of Biscay to the west coast of Ireland. Hot on their tail is an armada of 426 Spanish tuna trawlers, competing with 60 French, 17 Irish and ten English boats.

This year the European Commission will be there as well. In an attempt to monitor potentially explosive encounters between the fishermen, the Commission has chartered the vessel Northern Horizon to patrol the tuna route.

The energetic Fisheries Commissioner, Emma Bonino, has even threatened to climb on board herself, presumably to act as a sort of maritime referee.

Last summer, Spanish fishermen, who use the ecologically sound hook and pole system of fishing, accused the French of using their "spare" drift nets, double the size of the European Union's stipulated maximum length of 2.5 kilometres.

These controversial "walls of death" scour the seabed, indiscriminately snaring many thousands of fish.

Tension is already high as Brussels has just decreed that the French may no longer take the spare nets which they regard as indispensible.

"Once again, the European Commission has favoured the Spanish over us and we feel badly let down," said an aggrieved Mare Jolivet, captain of the Amazone trawler which sets sail this week for the Bay of Biscay from the tiny west coast island of Ile d'Yeu.

The locals of Ile d'Yeu pride themselves on the fact that their fishermen net a third of France's entire tuna production.

Each year, they catch 2,000 tonnes of white tuna, providing more than 30 per cent of the island's total income.

Jolivet has further reason to feel betrayed because the Commission also has plans to phase out drift nets completely by the end of 1997. Until now, the Council of Ministers has vetoed the measure, but according to Commission sources it is likely to pass the proposal at its next meeting on 15 June.

"Banning these nets would sound our death knell as fishermen," Jolivet says. "There is no way that we can survive on the hook and line. We want fivekilometre nets when we sail."

Over in Vigo, on the west coast of Spain, they see things differently. Don José Suarez Llorens, director of the local fishing cooperative, speaks for the Galician fishing community in approving the ban on drift nets. "The French will continue abusing length rules with these dreadful nets despite the reinforcement of controls," he says.

The English are relatively recent irritants to the Spanish tunafishers. In Newlyn, Cornwall, fishing is an economic mainstay for entire communities. To the annoyance of the Spanish, the Cornish, who have been forced out of their own traditional grounds by EU regulations, started fishing for tuna five years ago.

Like the fishermen of L'Ile d'Yeu, the Cornish came under violent attack from the Spanish last year, suffering damage estimated at £50,000 ($75,000) for which they received no compensation.

The English share the French view that banning drift nets would lead to certain bankruptcy.

Both the English and the French go into the next phase of the Tuna Wars forced on the defensive by ecological rows over the drift-net and by the sheer intimidatory capacity of the Spanish fleet. Spain's fishing fleet is the largest in the EU, comprising a third of the entire number of boats.

The first salvo of the new season was fired two weeks ago when Cornish fishermen catching hake off the Cornish coast had their nets ripped by Spaniards.

Some Cornish skippers and owners are now having second thoughts about sailing to the Bay of Biscay.

"But we have no alternative," says local fisherman Michael Williams. "The Spanish are trying to kick us and the French out of the international waters before a quota is placed on tuna."

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