Spanish fishermen go on pilgrimage to protest law change

Santiago de Compostela's main square played host to a massive demonstration against the Galician government's controversial draft fishing law. [amaianos/Flickr]

Thousands of people braved the Spanish rain to protest in the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela on Thursday (3 March) over the regional government’s alleged betrayal of its all-important fishing industry.

Seafarers, fishermen and shellfish gatherers from the region’s coastal areas journeyed inland and gathered in the historic city centre to demonstrate against the draft Aquaculture Law which threatens to “paralyse” their industry.

Banners declaring that the sea is not for sale were held aloft by the crowds, joined in their protests by environmentalists, unions and opposing political groups.

The masses demanded a change of course from policies that they allege are taking them towards “certain death”.

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The Spanish fishing industry employs roughly 41,500 people and 50% of all vessels originate from Galicia, meaning the autonomous region is hugely reliant on the sector.

The regional government’s draft law has raised concerns that environmental impact assessments will be scrapped, protected areas will be exploited and foreign species will be introduced. Adverse effects on water quality and increased pollution have also been highlighted.

Secretary General of the Socialist Party of Galicia (PSdeG) José Ramón Gómez Besteiro insisted that no negative decisions have been taken in regard to the industry, although this did little to ease the concerns of people who rely so heavily on the sector.

In the main square, dominated by the cathedral that is the final destination of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, the crowds gathered outside the City Hall and expressed their outrage at the inaction of the regional government, Madrid and the EU, accusing the powers-that-be of “not defending us in the way we deserve”.

The protesters called for a change in the “obsolete” system of Total Allowable Catches (TAC) and quotas that only “enrich a minority”, as well as increased promotion of traditional fishing techniques and tangible support and benefits for the region’s shellfishermen.

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Resources to advance the scientific understanding of phenomena such as red tide, a sporadic blooming of algae that has a negative impact on sealife, were also called for, as well as more funding to promote the recognition of Galician products.

These measures would create “more jobs and wealth” for Galicia. The demonstration’s organisers said that “the sea is our future. Santiago isn’t on the sea, so the sea had to come to it” and Juan Manuel Fajardo, of the Galician Left Alternative (AGE), warned that “without the sea, Galicia cannot exist”.


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