With nearly 20,000 vessels of varying size capable of unloading well over a million tons of fish a year from near and distant waters, the Spanish fishing fleet is the largest by far in the EU. Three-quarters of the fleet is based in the Atlantic and Canarian ports, with Galicia having the lion's share. This region, which includes Vigo, the largest fishing port in Spain, lands half of the country's catch, and fishing remains critically important in providing employment, with one in five jobs dependent on the industry. The very size of the Spanish fishing fleet has occasioned severe problems for itself after the European Community's extension of its territorial waters from 12 to 200 miles on 1 January 1977 and the decline of fish stocks in Spain's traditional fishing grounds. Joining the Community in 1986 (with full integration in the fisheries sector in 1996) has not proved to be a salvation: only a small proportion of Spanish vessels have been granted licences to operate in Community waters, and the Common Fisheries Policy, with its insistence on strict quotas and enforced mooring periods, has been a bitter pill for Spanish fishermen. Particularly badly hit have been the fishing communities of the Cantabrian and Galician coasts.
   Increasing restrictions over access to what had been traditional fishing grounds have led to friction and serious incidents between Spanish fishermen and the authorities and/or fishermen of other countries, notably Morocco, France and Canada. Desperate to maintain their threatened livelihood, Spanish fishermen have attempted to re-adjust in a variety of ways: by seeking new, but inevitably more distant, difficult and costly, fishing grounds in international waters; by registering their vessels perfectly legally in other EU countries (and thereby provoking much adverse criticism, especially in the UK); and by flouting Community regulations through landing fish in excess of quota and using illegal nets. The industry clearly faces a difficult future and the process of contraction through the scrapping of older vessels is set to continue. Despite its size the Spanish fishing fleet is much less efficient than those of its main competitors both in terms of catch per boat and catch per crew member, so employment prospects in the industry look bleak. A programme of aid, funded by both the Spanish government and the EU, for modernization and restructuring was begun in the 1990s. Fish farming is considered the only viable long-term response to the crisis caused by depletion of fish stocks, and the government is supporting investments in this sector.
   Nevertheless, despite the problems of access to fishing grounds, overcapacity and dwindling fish stocks, demand for fish in Spain continues unabated, requiring increasing amounts of imports and bringing about an overall deficit in international trade in food products. At over 40 kilograms per inhabitant per annum, Spanish consumption of fish is double the European average, and is the second food item by cost (after meat products) of Spanish households. Spanish imports of fish and seafood amount to not much less than half of the country's consumption; exports, including canned products, are approximately one-third of the value of imports.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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