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The Turbot War

The Spanish Perspective

(La guerre du turbot Le point de vue de L’Espagne)

Chandrika SHARMA

12 / 1997

In the Galician region of Spain the three million people living along the coast depend on fishing and fishery-related activities, like processing and shellfish extraction, for their livelihood. The fishery accounts for more than 6.5 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product and employs around 30,000 people, almost four percent of the active workforce.The turbot fishery alone directly employs more than 1,250 people. This fishery indirectly generates around 9,000 land-based jobs, which range from storage and marketing to the manufacture of nets, fishing gears, boatyards and rope making. Given the undeniable importance of this fishery to the region, the passions that were whipped up during the `turbot war’ between Canada and EU were not surprising. Protests began in March 1994, when Canada unilaterally declared a law, which, in violation of international maritime rights, empowered them to inspect and arrest foreign fishers in international waters, under the guise of marine conservation. This law was immediately denounced by Galician crews working in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO)area, and was seen as a part of the strategy to expel European fleets from the area adjoining the Grand Banks. In the regional meeting held later that year, NAFO failed to denounce the unilateral law enacted by the Canadians. Moreover, under pressure from Canada, the turbot quota was reduced to 27,000 tonnes, thereby limiting access to European fishing boats. This quota restriction was opposed by the EU, in response to pressure from the governments of Galicia and Spain. The EU raised the quota from about 3,000 to 18,000 tonnes. In response, Canada applied a moratorium throughout the entire fishing grounds that the EU did not accept.The tension and threats finally spilled over to the fishing grounds. On 9 March 1995, Canadian patrol boats, violating international law, chased, fired on and captured the Vigo fishing boat, Estai, accusing it of illegal fishing in international waters regulated by NAFO.In Galicia, the response was one of complete indignation. The community came out in force against this arrest, and 100,000 people demonstrated in Vigo in support of the fishing boat and demanded the unconditional release of the boat and its captain.In the subsequent negotiations between the EU and Canada, the EU was perceived as not standing up for the interests of Spain and Portugal. During the negotiations, Canada doubled its turbot quotas and the EU reduced its fishing opportunities by a quarter. The terms and conditions of the agreement negotiated created a growing mistrust of the EU within the Galician fishery sector. Little consideration was paid to the socio-economic impact of the new agreement-that two-thirds of the existing crewmembers and some 7,000-shore workers in Galicia, would lose their jobs. Simultaneously, the Canadians began a systematic campaign against the European fleet, accusing it of committing repeated infringements. The Canadian authorities used this `crusade against foreigners’ to momentarily resolve their internal political problems, the demands for independence and the need to satisfy their 40,000 unemployed fishers. The Canadian government presented itself to the world as the Guardian Angel of the Atlantic. The Canadian were even supported in this campaign from within the EU, chiefly by England and Ireland, breaking the principle of unity within the EU.


pêche, conflit interétatique, chômage

, Europe, Espagne, Canada


For the Galician fleet, the `turbot war’ raised many serious issues, including those related to the role of NAFO and of the EU. It also raised vital issues of survival and livelihood. It appears that the compunction to catch more fish, not only to provide employment to its vast fishing fleet, but also to meet the enormous domestic demand for fish, may have been behind the use of illegal and often destructive fishing gear and practices by the Spanish. It is evident that such practices are not sustainable and can only provide fish and employment in the short run. The rational long-term solution would be to reduce the size and capacity of the fishing fleet. While this is bound to have severe socio-economic repercussions ways have to be found to deal with these. It is necessary to provide alternative training and employment opportunities for displaced crewmembers. Current initiatives of the EU to systematically subsidise boatowners to scrap and export their boats are clearly inadequate, since for the crew there are no viable alternatives.


Articles et dossiers

JUSTO, Monica, The beginning of the end in. Samudra Report, 1995/04, 12

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