Hoisting a bluefin tuna from the almadraba trap (Barbate). Antonio Vázquez
Successful end to bluefin tuna fishing season in Cadiz province's traditional 'almadraba' traps

Successful end to bluefin tuna fishing season in Cadiz province's traditional 'almadraba' traps

Barbate's season opened on 18 April and Conil started four days later, with all fleets along the Strait landing a total of over 2,000 tonnes of the much-prized fish these past two months

Javier Rodríguez


Wednesday, 12 June 2024

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The annual bluefin tuna fishing season using the centuries-old trapping method in Cadiz ('almadraba') has just ended with a resounding success. The season has closed with an overall catch of over 1,643 tonnes and with thousands of tuna still crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in search of the warmer waters of the Mediterranean. It is therefore confirmed that the species has recovered satisfactorily after a decade of fishing restrictions to prevent its extinction.

The short-lived season ended last week with the last of the 'levantás' (hoisting the tuna aboard) in the traps of Tarifa, where 66 tuna were caught, in Zahara with 120 tuna and in Conil with 90 tuna. These are the three trapping locations operated by the Gadira company through the Almadraba Fish Producers Organisation (OPP51). In the last few days the Petaca Chico company, which manages the Barbate trap, has also completed the last of its 'levantás'.

The 2024 wild bluefin tuna fishing season kicked off in Barbate's almadraba on 18 April with the first 'levantá'. Four days later, on 22 April, it was the Conil trap which deployed its gear and caught 97 fish in what was the second 'levantá' of this season.

However, both Gadira and Petaca Chico increased this allocation by buying up some of the quotas from other fisheries in the country. This is the case, for example, of Petaca Chico, which added 450 tonnes thanks to the purchase of quotas from fishing companies in the Basque Country and along the Cantabrian Sea. The tuna caught in the Cadiz traps are mature specimens, which have already completed their typical life cycle and have reproduced plenty, some being over 20 years old. In contrast, the tuna fished in the Bay of Biscay are younger, weigh less and therefore more need to be caught and killed in order to reach the set fishing quota. It is somewhat incomprehensible that the four traps in the Cadiz area are not allocated more tonnes and instead are forced to buy quota rights.

Gadira has stated that the campaign that has just ended has been a complete success as, during these two months of work at sea, the weather has been good. Moreover, catches in the 'levantás' are increasingly abundant due to the enormous presence of tuna in the Strait of Gibraltar. As for tuna sales, 45% of production goes to the Asian market , while the rest remains in the domestic market, which also allows it to be distributed across Europe. The almadraba companies have incorporated new technologies into their production chains that allow them to bring wild bluefin tuna out of season to the markets and supply markets thanks to cold storage treatment where the tuna is kept at less than 60 degrees. Petaca Chico stresses that the Asian market, the main client for the almadraba harvest, always plays in their favour when it comes to prices and is the one that makes the difference by pulling down prices.

The almadraba fishing fleets in Cadiz know that the quota allocated for 2025 will be the same as that of 2023 and 2024, i.e. 1,643 tonnes, pending news of some leeway being granted for 2026 assuming that ICCAT, the international body that monitors the species and regulates its fishing, increases the allocation.

ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) is the international organisation that sets tuna-fishing allocations globally. The commission met in Cairo at the end of last year, having already awarded higher quotas in 2022, only to shut it down more until 2025. The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for this tuna for the years 2024 to 2026 was increased from 37,801 tonnes in 2023 to 47,251 tonnes in 2024. The European Union was allocated 35,815 tonnes, 7,212 tonnes more than in 2023. The Cadiz fleets were included in this general calculation with a quota of 1,643 tonnes. The distribution of this allocation for the season that has just ended was as follows: Barbate 454 tonnes, Zahara 426, Conil 413 and Tarifa 349.

The sector recognises that these have been very tough years with these fishing restrictions applied to the species, but the Recovery Plan has finally allowed the sector to stabilise. However, they point out that the quota allocated is still below their demands.

To understand these kinds of measures and restrictions, we need to look back at the meetings held by ICCAT every November. At the 2018 summit, an agreement was reached on a multi-annual management plan and it was stated that the species had fully recovered after ten years of fishing restrictions. Unfortunately, the distribution of the quota did not favour the four locations in Cadiz at all, as they had hoped to reach by the 2019 fishing season the same quantity they were assigned back when the restriction was applied in 2008, i.e. 1,440 tonnes.

By 2017 ICCAT confirmed that the species had recovered from the threat of depletion thanks to the fishing restriction plan implemented over the previous decade. So, the regulatory committee then opted for a slight increase in fishing quotas between 2017 and 2020. That is to say, according to the agreement, 2017 was the last year with such a tight quota, but the increase has been limited. In fact, in 2022 only a 10% increase was agreed to apply in 2023, 2024 and 2025. The Cadiz fleets feel they have been suffering these harsh fishing restrictions imposed by ICCAT for more than 10 years.

Protest by fisheries inspectors on 4 June before the Government Subdelegation in Cadiz. A.V.


Fisheries inspectors threaten further protests

The fisheries inspectorate in Cadiz is continuing with its protests and does not rule out further industrial action such as the 24-hour strike held on 4 June, thereby paralysing work mostly for the almadrabas (tuna traps). With an average strike participation of 80% nationally and 65% in Madrid, the strike that took place on Tuesday by fisheries inspectors who answer to central government was "a success". The aim of the industrial action was to demand improvements in the regulation of inspectors' working hours and in the economic remuneration they receive, denouncing the "labour abuses" of their public employers. It was the second day of strikes called by the collective after the one held in 2023. In February of this year, protests were also held. Sources from this group in Cadiz stressed that they are civil servants, "but without a proper working day and it is necessary to establish criteria for work-life balance." The absence of inspectors at their posts forced all activity at the Conil, Zahara, Barbate and Tarifa traps to come to a standstill on 4 June. The strike also affected the operation of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fattening farms, as their activity depends directly on the traceability controls overseen by the inspectors who were supporting the strike. The Navy's patrol vessel Alborán, assigned to the bluefin tuna campaign in the Mediterranean, was also inoperative, so no control and inspection work could be carried out in this important fishery for which Spain has made commitments with the EU Commission that are once again not being fulfilled. To sum up, the industrial action caused a great deal of inconvenience to the industrial fishing sector.

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