With anti-austerity demonstrations, a song for Europe, a pair of Barcelona-Real Madrid encounters, and scandals (royal and otherwise) bubbling along – some people may not have been paying attention to Tuesday’s meeting of the European Union’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council.
But when El Sueño de Morfeo have made Eurovision history (or not), when Cristiano and Leo have hung up their boots, and when harmony has returned to Spanish politics, the outcome of the Fisheries Council’s deliberations in Brussels will still be having a profound impact on dinner tables in Spain and beyond.
Among the issues discussed at the meeting was the introduction of a ban on throwing unwanted fish caught by massive driftnets back into the sea. Currently, it’s estimated that almost a quarter of all fish caught by EU vessels are discarded.
The logic of the practice is straightforward. Different fish command different prices and it makes commercial sense to throw cheaper fish back into the water to make space for a more valuable catch.
The consequences are equally straightforward. Annually, as much as 1.3 million tonnes of fish are thrown back into the North Atlantic alone, fish that could be processed for a variety of uses and whose destruction constitutes a massive and unnecessary assault on the marine environment.
The argument would appear to pit market forces against sustainability (but, of course, unsustainable practices undermine market viability over the long run, as those who once made a living from halibut and cod fishing and now inhabit depopulated coastal communities on both sides of the Atlantic will testify).
Some countries, including Sweden, wanted an immediate ban on discarding fish. Some, including Spain, advocated a gradualist approach. On Wednesday morning, after 20 hours of negotiation, the Fisheries Council reached a characteristic EU compromise. A limited ban will be introduced, allowing 7 per cent of the total catch to be discarded, and it will be phased in over a period of years.
European Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki had lobbied for a more rigorous approach, insisting that “the public does not want fish to be just thrown away.” The public, though, does want affordable fish, and may short-sightedly reject the added cost of environmental responsibility.
On the other hand, slightly more expensive fish is better than no fish at all, a distant prospect which, despite (or because of) this week’s compromise, cannot be ruled out.
The Fisheries Council didn’t focus exclusively on whether or not to throw fish away: it also touched on when EU fishing boats will be able to return to Moroccan waters – something that affects the dwindling fleets of Andalucía and the Canary Islands in particular.
A fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco expired at the end of 2011 and negotiations on a new pact have stalled (despite, among other things, the intervention of Mariano Rajoy in Rabat in January 2012, on his first foreign trip after taking office).
The Fisheries Council was briefed on a new round of consultations now being scheduled. Concerns have been raised in the European Parliament that earlier agreements with Morocco, where they affect waters off the Western Sahara, may be inconsistent with international law. There is also an initiative to link agreement on fishing to Morocan human-rights guarantees – a global approach which is not without merit but which may complicate the return of Spanish fishing boats to southern coastal waters.
Popular mood music
Talks about fish are undoubtedly important but they don’t make compelling light entertainment. The same cannot be said of the programme organised by TVE at its Barcelona studios on Tuesday to choose Spain’s entry for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
Possibly not a pivotal national event, but nonetheless a barometer of the popular mood.
The four possible entries, all written by the lead musicians of El Sueño de Morfeo, included upbeat numbers expounding the virtues of optimism, of audacity, and of radical change (revolution even). But the song that was chosen is a quasi-celtic and somewhat subdued paean to sticking With You Till the End.
Stoicism rather than confidence appears to be the order of the day.
At this week’s Brussels meeting, Sweden opposed the Spanish position on discarding fish. Let’s hope that the eminently watchable Asturian contingent meets with more universal approval in Malmo in May.
To read more by Anna Maria O’Donovan visit www.myspanishinterlude.com