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Galician mollusks. (Photo: Stock File)

Illegal activity grows in Galician seafood market

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018, 00:30 (GMT + 9)

According to research led by a fishing economy group of the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC), illegal activity in the marine products business in the first seven months of the year increased, exceeding 100.6 tonnes of seafood only considering seized products, according to data provided by the Undersecretariat of Marine Affairs.

According to the data provided by the team of scientists, led by Hugo Ballesteros, Gonzalo Rodríguez and María do Carme García-Negro, behind this illegal business there are organizations that operate similarly to mafias, tourists who are really poachers in swimsuit and people without resources.

The research team studied similar cases in South Africa, Australia and Canada, but Ballesteros assures that Galician poaching is "unique" in the world.

Despite being a practice repudiated by professionals in the sector, the socioeconomic reality of Galicia and the number of interventions carried out between January and July (amount to 9,065) reflect that it is a daily activity.

Researchers at the USC claim that the actions of illegal fishermen cause a "great economic impact" on the industry of the sea and a "serious detriment" to the profession. The Deputy Director of the Coastguard Service, Lino Sexto, told Europa Press that the amount of fish and shellfish seized is usually the same every year, but if there is a rebound -- as this year, 79,000 kilos more than the previous one -- the cause is that certain illicit activities are counted as poaching although they do not really correspond to the ones they commonly develop.

Hugo Ballesteros, Gonzalo Rodríguez and the president of the Galician Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Tomás Fajardo, agree that this practice is totally unwanted and rejected by the set of shellfish gatherers. Although sometimes there is a specific case in which workers accept this illegal catch, in cases of need - when irregular fishermen have money problems, drug addiction or are unemployed - and for self-consumption. This punctual permissiveness hides a responsibility to help the needy that falls on the shellfishers.

Another type of poaching that affects the sector is the so-called bather: the one practised by tourists and holiday-makers when they collect fish and shellfish on the beaches. Ballesteros states that this activity is practised in an "almost ludic" way, while the president of the fishing associations calls it "vice". This kind of illegal capture is not as obvious as the professional one (the one they exercise without a license to make a living), the internal one (the one that occurs in the sector itself) or the organized one, which can act as a mafia and collect up to EUR 3,000 in one night, according to the research group.

The consequences of the illegal shellfish catch are numerous. Not only is the economy harmed by the collapse of the price of the resource and with unfair competition, but it also has a negative impact on the environment. Ballesteros assures that the economic damage "is still not valued", while his partner Gonzalo Rodríguez adds that the uncontrolled catch "destabilizes the markets, reduces the income of the legal shellfish harvesters and consolidates channels in the black market".

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