On board the Edouard François (France) (AFP)

"We will be forced to change jobs," says Johnny Grember, captain of the Edouard François, one of the 58 French trawlers who fish in the Mediterranean.

The fishermen are worried about the regular drop in fishing quotas, and for the future of the industry.

In the black summer night, the sailors mend the nets of the trawler, moored in Port-la-Nouvelle (Aude), before a 15-hour fishing day, limit set by the European management plan in the western Mediterranean.

To preserve dangerously damaged fishery resources, the European Ministers of Agriculture and Fisheries decided last December to reduce the fishing effort by 7.5% (number of days at sea) in 2021 in the western Mediterranean, passing from 200 to 183 days, after a 10% drop in 2020.

The objective set by the European Commission is to reduce the fishing effort of trawlers by a maximum of 40% by 2025.

What to discourage fishermen in the area, like Johnny Grember, 37 years old.

"There for the moment it is 183 days but if in a year, they put us at 160 or 140, what will we do if we are arrested for six months? For us, it is unlivable", he plague .

The Edouard François, 25 m long, uses twin otter trawls: metal plates placed at the front of the trawl which allow the net to be opened.

As it advances, it captures species living near the bottom.

Fishermen empty the nets aboard the trawler Edouard Français, August 11, 2021 off Port-la-Nouvelle, in Aude RAYMOND ROIG AFP

"Go ahead, unwind slowly ... Roll full speed!" One of the sailors shouts to the captain as the trawls are deployed.

Once underwater, the nets are dragged for about three hours.

- Restore stocks -

Activity resumes on the stern.

The captain is on the deck, the sound of the metal cables starting the hauling of the nets.

It is a work of orchestra: a sailor shouts to the right, the right net rises.

Then to the left.

After several minutes, the nets approach.

The peach is poured out and the scent of the spray mingles with the smell of diesel fuel emanating from the ship.

Fishermen empty the nets aboard the trawler Edouard Français, August 11, 2021 off Port-la-Nouvelle, in Aude RAYMOND ROIG AFP

At first glance, the harvest seems average, according to the captain: a few monkfish, red mullet, hake, prawns and dogfish.

As soon as they have come up, the nets have to be put back into the sea for another three-hour fishing trip.

"We fish all over the Mediterranean but at the moment the fish are more here (off the Franco-Spanish coast)", underlines Johnny Grember, his eyes riveted on his on-board computer, changing course for the second outing.

With this reduction in fishing effort, the EU hopes to restore stocks of hake and red mullet which are overexploited, according to scientists.

A catch quota by species, as is the case in the Atlantic or in the English Channel, was for a time considered but impossible to set up at the level of trawling in the Mediterranean in view of the many species that are caught on each trip.

Fishermen sort the catch of the day aboard the trawler Edouard Français, August 11, 2021 off Port-la-Nouvelle, in Aude RAYMOND ROIG AFP

"Hake and red mullet represent only 10 to 15% of catches depending on the vessel, a very small part of the fishery which will have economic and social consequences", deplores Perrine Cuvilliers, secretary general of the Organization of Southern Producers.

- "A heavy price" -

Asked by AFP, the Ministry of the Sea recognizes that it is a "heavy price to pay" for fishermen but that a support system is planned so that the decrease in the number of fishing days is "the least. impacting possible ".

This plan is based on temporary stoppage assistance systems, intended to compensate the shipowner's fixed costs related to the 17 days less and access to partial unemployment for the crew.

A fisherman holds two beautiful rays aboard the trawler Edouard Français, August 11, 2021 off Port-la-Nouvelle, in Aude RAYMOND ROIG AFP

Fishermen and shipowners warn that the reduction to 183 days is close to the break-even point, to 177 days at sea per year.

"Today, we have about twenty boats below the breakeven point. We are worried about the future. How to be profitable?" Asks Bernard Perez, president of the Regional Fisheries Committee of Occitanie (CRPMEM) and owner of the Edouard François.

Captain Johnny Grember, he believes that the entire industry will be undermined.

"It will close all the auctions if we stay closed for two and a half months. The trawlers without the auction and we without the auction are nothing. For the moment I let it come but I don't see how to do it, we will have to change jobs, "sighs the one who has been a sailor for 17 years.

© 2021 AFP

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