Francisco Pastor with his boat on Burriana beach / e. cabezas

Nerja fishermen given 15-month jail sentence for catching endangered shark

Francisco Pastor and his cousin Antonio have been banned from fishing until November 2023 for events that occurred in 2016 and have received a suspended fine of 386,000 euros for a crime against wildlife

Eugenio Cabezas
EUGENIO CABEZAS

Francisco Pastor comes from a long line of Nerja fishermen. At 50, he says he is going through an ordeal that “I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy." Since November 2020, he has been serving a sentence for having had "the bad luck" of catching a thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus), an endangered species, which got caught in his fishing net in November 2016, about 300 metres from the shore off Burriana beach.

"What was I going to do? I didn't want to lose the nets, which are worth more than six thousand euros. We dragged it to the shore, the fish was already dead when we pulled it out, it had drowned after getting stuck in the nets," recalls Pastor.

A photo taken of his cousin, Antonio Pastor, who is now 33, next to the shark, which circulated on WhatsApp, was "my undoing," says Francisco. "He helped me pull it to shore, but he's not a fisherman, he's in construction," he added.

"If I had not uploaded it to social networks none of this would have happened," laments Pastor, who was sentenced, along with his cousin, to 15 months in prison, along with a three year ban from fishing and a suspended fine of 386,000 euros for a crime against wildlife.

The prosecutor and the judge, on seeing their economic situation and testimonies, agreed to suspend the payment of the fine, as long as both complied with the ban and did not commit further crimes during the three-year ban. “At home I have a very delicate situation with the pandemic, I have two unemployed children of 30 and 21 living with us and two grandchildren, 11 and 5, and we only have 400 euros income from my wife," confesses Pastor, who has asked for a job at the town council and has gone to social services, "without them helping me."

"I need a job, whatever it is, because I can't go out fishing with my boat, which was how I made a living until just over a year ago," explained Pastor, who denies that the shark was cut up and sold in Nerja. "That's a lie, the fish was given away to some beach bars in Burriana, what were we going to do with it?"

"We have submitted a request for a pardon to the government of Pedro Sánchez but we have not yet been answered," he explained. However, he added that a few months ago he and his cousin met with the Minister of Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, when he was in Malaga. Pastor said the minister told him that he had heard of similar cases. “Thresher sharks exist on these coasts, the trawlers in the port of Caleta de Vélez have taken them out more than once," Pastor pointed out.

Rescue of a swimmer

Pastor worked in 2020 as the skipper of a cleaning boat in Nerja, when his ban on piloting motorboats had not yet been issued. In July of that year he was the protagonist of a story in SUR, when he rescued a 30-year-old swimmer who was drowning about 150 meters from El Playazo beach, in front of the hotel Marinas de Nerja. "If it hadn't been for me, that boy wouldn't have survived," he recalls.

In November 2016 this newspaper reported the capture of the thresher shark in Nerja. Shark specialist at the Aula del Mar de Málaga, Francisco Pinto, told SUR then that the species "is very unusual to see near the coast, since it lives at depths of 500 metres". However, he confirmed that "a few years ago one was captured off La Caleta de Vélez port, which was seized by the fisheries department of the Junta de Andalucía."

"On some occasions specimens have been seen near the ports, such as Benalmádena, but never on the beaches. Its fishing is forbidden, there are only a few hundred specimens left," Pinto pointed out at the time, while regretting that the regional government had not been able to intervene on this occasion. "It is a pity that there are still unscrupulous people of this type who do business with the sale of sharks in danger of extinction," he said.

Subsequently, in April 2017 the Guardia Civil reported that there were four people being investigated for the capture and sale of the thresher shark in Nerja. A number of NGOs denounced the publication of the photo on social networks, which alerted the Nature Protection Service (Seprona) of the Guardia Civil, who opened an investigation. The species is protected by national and international laws, and the fishing and sale of the shark is totally prohibited.

The photo of Francisco's cousin, Antonio, with the shark, which was shared on social media in 2016 / sur