Catalan Bay / Traditional Fishing Methods Group reply to the GFSA Press Release

Dear Sir,

The recent comments on GBC on longlining by a representative of the Federation of Sea Anglers cannot go unchallenged by those who have been using this method of fishing. Longlining has been a traditional fishing method in Catalan Bay since time immemorial. It has been sustainable over these many years and certain types of longlining are seasonal and geared towards different species.

The most commonly targeted species are grouper in the hot summer months and pargos and brecas in late spring and late summer. There are currently a few individuals, all linked to Catalan Bay, that practice this mode of fishing in Gibraltar. They are all permitted under current regulations.

Longlining is an art that requires years of experience, which has been passed from father to son in Catalan Bay. It is also a method of fishing that requires long hours i.e. catching bait, baiting the longlines, casting the longlines and finally mending and sorting the lines for the next casting.

These operations can take many hours and even days; therefore, longlining is not practiced as often as it is made out to be. There are further restrictions that control longlining, namely foul weather, availability of baits (not all baits are available all year round) and spring tides when currents are at their strongest. There are certain fishing locations where longlining is not possible during spring tides, and compounded with inclement weather, means that locations are not fished as regularly as we would like to.

One cannot deny that stocks of targeted and also non-targeted species have been in decline over the years, but to blame it exclusively on longlining is unacceptable and totally unjustified and requires a further analysis of what has transpired during the last few years.

Grouper numbers have declined over the last few years because of improved and more sophisticated methods of underwater fishing. Spanish divers have the ability to dive deeper and have all the facilities required to identify hot spots and rocky bottoms, especially on the east side which were never dived before and groupers were abundant. If conditions are right and waters are crystal clear, they can make significant catches. All they have to do is go to the hot spots and dive, whilst with longlining you have to follow all the laborious steps mentioned above. Furthermore, some of these divers fish all day long moving from one hot spot to another. Longlines is a one cast and finish operation.

The use of hermit crabs during the last few years has been a fundamental cause for the reduction in the numbers of pargos, brecas and hurtas. Hurtas are not a longline targeted species but they have been almost eliminated in local waters with the use of hermit crabs as bait. The use of hermit crabs in Spain is illegal and so is their catching with any method.
However, local anglers including those from the federation have found ways and means of evading the prohibition of the acquisition of these crabs, and the catches of brecas, pargos and hurtas in the early years with rod and line have been astronomical. Some anglers still manage to purchase them today in Spain, but the federation very conveniently fails to mention this fact.

Then came the ‘Kabura’ or better known locally as ‘el ojo’. These lures were responsible for the massacre of pargos, brecas and samas of all sizes in their thousands.

The large number of boats using these lures, augmented by those that had recently berthed in the new marina, had a catastrophical and quite noticeable effect in the reduction of these species. There were times when up to 50 boats were fishing with these lures on the east side. It was quite evident that catches with longlines were considerably reduced following the use of these lures.

Although everyone is entitled to the use of the sea for recreational purposes, the large number of boats berthed at the new marina that participate in recreational fishing has had a further negative impact on fishing in local waters. This has not only happened in Gibraltar but the number of recreational fishing vessels has also increased in neighbouring Spanish sea towns that have port recreational facilities.

It is our view that it is hypocritical for the federation to isolate longlining as the sole fishing method responsible for the reduction of these species. Longlines when cast do not always catch as much fish as we would like. There are times when the catches are reasonable but there are also times when catches are very poor, such as when bait is eaten by tiddlers or when fish do not feed. We know for a fact that at times anglers with good baits such as hermit crabs, titas etc. catch more fish than longlines. These anglers at times fish from dawn to dusk!

Finally, we would like to stress once again that to single out longlining as the sole cause of the decline in the number of the aforementioned species is unjustified. The art of longlining has always remained the same over the years. On the other hand the use of sophisticated equipment such as GPS, fishfinders and state of the art fishing tackle available to recreational anglers has also had a negative impact on these species. Longlining is regulated under local law and if there are contraventions from longliners of the regulations it is up to the relevant section of the Department of the Environment to enforce the law.

To conclude, it is common knowledge that the single most damaging discipline of fishing in BGTW is fishing with nets. This practice is illegal under the Nature Protection Act 1991. Some progress has been made by the Department of the Environment and interdepartmental operations have proved successful, however we feel we need to achieve eradication of these Catalan Bay / Traditional Fishing Methods Group methods in order to positively regulate our own practices. After all, we promised Minister Cortes to give up our net fishing practices 8 years ago, and have complied ever since.

Mr Edward Baglietto – Catalan Bay / Traditional Fishing Methods Group Representative