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ENVIRONMENT

EU backs Spain’s ‘destructive’ trawlers

The European Parliament has narrowly rejected a ban on bottom trawling, blamed by environmentalists for massive deep-sea destruction but defended by Spain and France.

EU backs Spain's 'destructive' trawlers
Bottom fishing with heavy trawl nets scoops up everything on the seabed, a practice environmentalists say destroys fragile ecosystems. File photo: Marcel Mochet

Lawmakers voted down the ban by 342 votes to 326, backing a compromise motion by the main Conservative and Socialist groups to regulate the sector more closely so as to protect vulnerable habitats.

Bottom fishing with heavy trawl nets scoops up everything on the seabed, a practice environmentalists say destroys fragile ecosystems such as coral reefs which are home to a wide variety of species and essential breeding grounds.

It is used mainly by French and Spanish boats off the Scottish and Irish coasts in waters up to 1,500 metres (5,700 feet) deep.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki had sought a ban in the Northeast Atlantic beginning in two years time but parliament's fisheries commission recommended instead it should be stopped only in areas identified by the Commission as especially vulnerable.

Green French MEP Jean-Paul Besset deplored the outcome, saying that "as other marine resources are run down, the logic of always more, further out, deeper won the day".

Environment group Greenpeace said the vote showed that parliament was "at best half-hearted" in its approach.

"It is astonishing that subsidized fishing vessels can continue to plough the seafloor with monster nets that crush everything in their path," it said in a statement.

"Without subsidies, deep-sea trawling would be unprofitable," it said, noting that while relatively "few fishermen in France, Spain and Portugal specialize in deep-sea fishing with trawls … their impact is disproportionately large."

The Blue Fish Europe industry group for its part welcomed the vote, saying it would help protect fishermen's jobs as well as the environment.

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ENVIRONMENT

Police operation targets illegal water tapping in Spain

More than 130 people were arrested or placed under investigation for illegal water tapping last year, Spain’s Guardia Civil police said on Wednesday following a huge operation.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park”
Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in Andalusia. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

During the year-long operation, “133 people were arrested or investigated for extracting water through more than 1,533 illegal infrastructure devices”, the police’s environmental unit said in a statement.

A similar operation in 2019 had targeted 107 people.

Spain is one of the European countries most at risk from the impact of drought caused by global warming, scientists say.

Water usage issues are often at the heart of heated political debates in Spain where intensive agriculture plays an important role in the economy.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in the southern Andalusia region, one of Europe’s largest wetlands and a Unesco World Heritage bird sanctuary.

They were also operating in “in the basins of Spain’s main rivers”.

In Doñana, police targeted 14 people and 12 companies for the illegal tapping of water for irrigation, a police spokesman said.

Ecologists regularly raise the alarm about the drying up of marshes and lagoons in the area, pointing the finger at nearby plantations, notably growing strawberries, which are irrigated by illegally-dug wells.

“The overexploitation of certain aquifers for many reasons, mainly economic, constitutes a serious threat to our environment,” the Guardia Civil said.

The European Court of Justice rapped Spain over the knuckles in June for its inaction in the face of illegal water extraction in Donana which covers more than 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) and is home to more than 4,000 species, including the critically endangered Iberian lynx.

According to the government’s last official estimate, which dates back to 2006, there were more than half a million illegal wells in use.

But in a 2018 study, Greenpeace estimated there were twice as many, calculating that the quantity of stolen water was equivalent to that used by 118 million people — two-and-a-half times the population of Spain.

Spanish NGO SEO/Birdlife also on Wednesday raised the alarm about the “worrying” state of Spain’s wetlands.

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