From August 2021, the company Yaizatun (of the Murcian conglomerate Ricardo Fuentes e Hijos) has expired a concession to produce sea bream and sea bass in 53 sea cages located in the Gulf of Avila, between Punta Gorda and Playa Quemada , in the municipality Yaiza (to the south of Lanzarote). The company continues with the activity despite the fact that the Ministry of Agriculture rejected the extension request in October this year. And it remains so as the company filed a controversial-administrative appeal to the courts in November, requesting a precautionary suspension of the regional executive’s resolution until it declares itself a region. which, moreover, is not suitable for aquaculture, as stated in the Canary Islands Regional Aquaculture Management Program (PROAC) approved in 2018.
For nearly a decade, residents of the city have complained of foul smell, change in color of the coastal waters or presence of oil and food on the shore. Ecologistas en Axion has once again awarded the black flag in 2022 “for biological contamination in Playa Quemada”, which it attributes to the company’s aquaculture activity. The Yaiza City Council has commissioned ecological and environmental studies to confirm the impact of the activity on the environment, confirming the pollution of the seashore. And in October this year, Dolores Coruzo, president of the Cabildo de Lanzarote, declared that sea cages would “soon disappear”.
For this reason, during a parliamentary commission held on 19 December, Osvaldo Betancourt, representative of the Canarian Alliance, asked the Minister of Agriculture, Alicia Vanostende, why this had not yet been done. “It is true that the cages must be destroyed,” acknowledged the head of the region, recalling that this was understood when the government of the Canary Islands refused an extension to the company in October. But in November, the company “submitted a controversial-administrative appeal and crippled the removal of the cages.”
“We are now in the judicial part and it is precisely in a court of law that the resolution will be decided. We, as defendants, understand that we have applied the rules and we have made a resolution that complies with the law,” They said. He also recalled that, because Playa Quemada “has some existing problems”, it was not declared a suitable area for aquaculture interest in PROAC.
Yaiza’s mayor, Oscar Noda, assures that the company has continued to operate these cages “with total normality, as if nothing happened” even after the concession expired. “It appears that (Yaizatún) filed a legal claim and requested precautionary measures, arguing that he had fingers crossed near the end date of the concession and that he would lose an investment if he allowed us to continue. Will give,” he says, but “they have invested too much because there have also been robberies, they are throwing everything they have”. This newspaper has contacted the Ricardo Fuentes e Hijos group to obtain their version. , But he has not received any response.
The Yaiza City Council commissioned a study from the NGO Innoceana between the months of April and July this year on the quality and ecosystem of the bathing water in Playa Quemada. The work concludes as the main hypothesis that the regression of the cebadal, a vulnerable species on the Spanish list of threatened species, is due to the presence of cyanobacteria that grow and form sludge by feeding on nutrients from sediments or excrement from seabass cages. ,
The NGO denied that the nutrients leaching out of the waste from the land because Playa Quemada is a town of 150 residents, has no industry and “such a small population with wastewater systems powered by filtration is exposed to high concentrations of nutrients.” quantities cannot provide. to the marine environment”. It also rules out the idea that currents transport nutrients to the ocean because currents in that area are circular and slow down. Furthermore, they concluded that the presence of predators “may have led to accidental loss of fish.”
However, the NGO clarifies that this is a “non-exhaustive” preliminary study with conclusions that cannot be taken as absolute as the water and sediment samples were analyzed at specific times in a timed manner. And he recommends a more complete analysis for the full year. The mayor of Yaza clarifies that the investigation has not been completed because their resources are limited. “In the last legislature we asked environmental associations and Cabildo for help to conduct more complete and longer studies during the year, so that different measurements can be taken at different times, since the ideal is that samples are taken every month ”
Still, remember that the City Council has already done a total of three studies and believes that Inociana’s hypothesis is “overpowered (… ) the seabed is even worse. Besides the environmental data, I think the pictures speak for themselves. You can even see the layer of mud, the layer of dirt on the bottom, that indicates they have never been cleaned. The contract says they should clean it periodically and they haven’t. I think that’s the responsibility of the fisheries sub-ministry, that supervision. Even That Sebadal is also completely contaminated. Before it was a fishing ground, from the depths, now there is practically nothing, there is no life in those funds “.
Noda assures that the city council has asked the operating company for environmental monitoring plans that it should have with the concession each year. “That plan warned that great care should be taken in feeding each cage. But they were being fed more than necessary because of the accumulation of sludge in the bottom. They also recommended cleaning the funds from time to time, draining them, etc. was done so that all the sediment does not settle on the bottom. Neither the company nor the Department of Fisheries has investigated the sea bream and sea bass since the beginning of the breeding season. In this sense, he recalls They say they have sent several letters to the regional government demanding the cleaning of the seabed, but “they never replied to us.”
In this regard, Alicia Vanostende commented in her speech to the parliamentary commission that “years ago” in Playa Quemada “with fish species, when nets had less control” or “caused more sediment than spent on feed”. There were problems with , But he assures that, at present, the ministry has “no reports that say these cages harm the ecosystem” and that the sector has “a service contracted with an external company that inspects all the aquatic animals present in the Canaries”. Environmental monitoring of agricultural companies. The island is taking samples from time to time. The result is that neither this company nor others are causing environmental problems.
From tuna to sea bass and sea bream
On July 2, 2001, the Department of Agriculture granted administrative authorization to the company Yayztun for the establishment and exploitation of aquaculture cages in Bahía de Avila, between Punta Gorda and Playa Quemada. In 2007, the sub-fisheries ministry announced the concessional nature of the permits, establishing conditions of five-year exploitation up to a maximum of 20 years. In 2017, the Directorate of Fisheries authorized a third extension, but it was set to expire on August 2, 2021, with no possibility of further extension.
“In the beginning, the company fattened tuna and had ten cages at most. Tuna feed on a natural bait, sardines, which sink to the bottom, get diluted, dissolve, or are eaten by other fish. At that time practically no complaints were received. But in later years they changed the species to sea bream and sea bass and progressively increased the cages to the 53 that still exist today”, recalls the mayor of Yaiza.
Noda criticized that the culture species and number of cages had been changed “without any sort of environmental impact study”, admitting that he did not know whether this was in accordance with the concession. In his opinion, “At least one environmental impact study should be done, because food is different, you go from natural to chemical with feed. And that has an effect on the substance, which I think has happened. Either Relevant studies were not done, or they were done and yet they were provided and extended. And this has caused contamination at depth. This is the situation if there is no cleaning and maintenance from above.”
The regulation of aquaculture in the Canary Islands was included as an objective in the 2003 Fisheries Law, but did not see the light of day until 2018, as part of the current Regional Plan for the Management of Aquaculture (PROAC). with. The document declared the area granted to Yaztun a “restricted area” and in February 2020, the company submitted a request for a new concession in another area.
In response, on October 28, 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture approved the grounds for a public tender to award a concession in an area located between La Bufona and Playa El Barranquillo, which includes the municipalities of Arrecife, San Bartolome and Tias. The company of the Ricardo Fuentes e Hijos group will have priority, since PROAC establishes that people who live in prohibited areas on the date of approval of the document will have an advantage over other competitors in tenders for demarcated areas. In other words, the intention was to relocate and expand the cages from Playa Quemada along part of the east coast of the island.
“Aquaculture, well done, not polluting”
During his speech to the parliamentary committee on 19 December, the agriculture minister insisted, “I want to dispel the idea that aquaculture is polluting, because when it’s done well, it doesn’t pollute. ” “New ways of feeding the fish and new forms of control mean that the new concessions warrant a positive impact assessment with respect to the environment.”
In the regional budget for 2023, the fishing budget is increased by 80% to 52.2 million euros, of which 38% will be used to promote the development of aquaculture specifically in the Canary Islands, European Marine Fund and Fisheries And thanks to Aquaculture (FEMPA). The European Union seeks to promote large-capacity activity among its member states in order to increase self-sufficiency under sustainability criteria and, in parallel, minimize the negative consequences of the activity in the local environment.
Thus, the European Parliament approved a report on sustainable aquaculture, concluding that it would contribute to food production with less environmental impact than terrestrial agriculture, reduce pressure on oceans and rivers, create jobs and promote the Green Pact. Or will be compatible with the objectives of the strategy. farm to table,
In this scenario, the archipelago meets the conditions to lead, together with other autonomies such as Galicia or the Valencian Community, the production of food of aquatic origin in Spain. However, the islands generate only 7,000 tonnes per year out of the 37,000 tonnes they would be able to achieve, mainly due to bureaucratic hurdles and the high demands of the activity currently required. Still pending is the Aquaculture Council, a body involved in the regulation of fisheries legislation in which the Council, the Department of Ecological Transition and the Ministry of Agriculture participate, and whose purpose is to promote and coordinate this activity. But it has met only once, when the PROAC was approved.