Times are not good for the Galician Norway lobster. That overfishing has taken its toll is easy to intuit with a simple walk through the markets of the region, but now we can detail its impact thanks to the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, the IEO. And his balance is not exactly optimistic. In a study published in Frontiers in Marine Science and which its authors claim to be the most complete to date, researchers warn of an alarming population collapse.
The figures are certainly eloquent.
What does the study say? That the Norway lobster is not going through its best moment. The research, carried out by the IEO-CSIC together with Swedish, Danish and Portuguese scientists, shows that between 1983 and 2009 the populations of this crustacean located in the northeast of Iberia fell by 94%, a phenomenon that also coincided with a considerable reduction in the fishing intensity.
Since 2009 researchers have observed a “slight increase” in the biomass of Norway lobster, although the IEO accompanies the comment with a clear warning: “They have disappeared from the shallower waters of their traditional distribution.” “The Norway lobster is being caught at greater depths every time,” adds Isabel González Herraiz, a scientist at the IEO in A Coruña and first author of the article: “It may be indicative of the contraction of the stocks after the collapse.”
Las Rías Baixas, the worst stops. Although the general photography is not good, its tones change from one region to another. In the case of the Rías Altas, for example, the biomass of the crustacean has been below the minimum point of reference since 1996 and it would be necessary to multiply it by ten to achieve the “maximum sustainable yield”, a level that would allow reaching a maximum volume of catches without the risk of depleting the resource. In the Bay of Biscay it would arrive with doubling it.
The situation is much worse in the Rías Baixas and the north of Portugal. In this area the population of Norway lobster has remained below the minimum point since 1994 and a biomass 50 times higher would be needed to be sustainable with fishing exploitation.
Do we handle more data? Yes. Those collected by Pesca de Galicia, a platform promoted by the Consellería do Mar, and which yields equally disturbing data. Their statistics reveal that in 2001 the A Coruña fish market computed some 447,300 kilos of Norway lobster, far from the 191,600 in 2022. In the case of Vigo, it has gone from 107,000 to 15,100 during the same period. If two decades ago both markets added 72,000 kg during the first quarter of the year, in 2023 the reality is quite different: they have barely exceeded 19,300. The organization’s tables also show how the number of markets where Norway lobster is landed has fallen.
And the evolution of fishing? La Voz de Galicia recalls that crustacean fishing off the Galician coast has been limited for years. The IEO’s own study recalls that between 2016 and 2017 the total allowable catch (TAC) was reduced from 48 t to zero for division 8c —FU 25, which corresponds to northern Galicia, and 31, the Cantabrian Sea—. “The TAC has remained at 0 in the following years, with the exception of 2 t and 0.7 t for the sentinel fisheries for Nephrops at FU 25 and FU 31, respectively”, the authors detail in reference to Norway lobster. The team also slips that even if a TAC 0 policy is applied, Nephrops are “an incidental catch in the bottom trawl fishery.”
Beyond Galician seafood. Apart from its key environmental implications, the IEO report also has a clear economic reading. And in terms of consumption, of course. In any case, Spain has had a “plan B” for some time that goes beyond shellfish from the coasts of the north of the peninsula. More than a decade ago, the FAO already pointed it out as one of the major seafood importing nations globally in a list led by Japan. The country also stands out in any case in its export flow.
The shrimp from Mediterranean countries, such as Morocco, Tunisia, Greece and Italy, stands out in particular; or the prawns from Morocco, Mauritania and Mozambique. Also the increase in sales of Norwegian fish and shellfish.
Cover image: Jose Antonio Rivero Forne (Flickr)
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