22 Sep, 2013 @ 12:00
3 mins read

Why are Spanish waters awash with stinging jellyfish? Best ask the fishermen

jellyfish plague in malaga thousands of bathers affected
Small jellyfish have arrived in large numbers

IT is that horrible moment when you start to relax while splashing off one of Spain’s celebrated beaches. A sudden jolt of pain shoots up the leg as a jellyfish leaves a welt the size of your hand on the back of your leg.

Throbbing for several hours, the pain can even last until the next day and leave a nasty rash.

It is a scene that is sadly getting increasingly common today, with the news that Spanish waters are now awash with a swarm of different stinging swimmers of all sizes.

Indeed, jellyfish numbers have tripled over the last few years… and it emerges Spain’s local fisherman are largely to blame.

It is no coincidence that nine out of ten species of fish have been overfished around the world, according to the conservation group Oceana. Some varieties have declined to the point where their survival is threatened. In 2010 Greenpeace added the bluefin tuna to its red list- when numbers fell by 72%.

Removing the top predators, such as tuna and groupers, is altering marine communities and leading to a surge in smaller species such as sardines and anchovies and most alarmingly jellyfish.

WWF warns that European fish stocks will take 100 years to recover under current regulations.

Spain is one of the biggest offenders of overfishing. Fact. The country has repeatedly had its knuckles rapped, pulling in far more fish than its quota and leaving stocks dangerously low.

Only last month the country received a stiff fine for overfishing, along with Poland. The country has now been ordered to reduce what it catches in 2014 by a massive 800 tonnes.

It is bad news for Spain’s fishermen. The country’s fishing fleet represents around a quarter of the entire EU fishing capacity and receives the bulk of EU subsidies. According to Oceana, Spain receives a massive €2.8m of official EU funding a year, and the Spanish government has provided €1.9bn in subsidies over the past 12 years.

This has allowed fishing fleets to fund their obsession with overfishing.

Despite repeated warnings and restrictions imposed on Spain’s fishermen over the past 12 years, there is clear evidence that public money is still being used to fund unhealthy marine activity.

In March this year, the country was also fined and ordered to make a 15% cut in its mackerel allowance.

Maria Damanaki, the EU’s fisheries and maritime affairs commissioner, said: “Enforcement of fishing rules is vital for sustainability. When overfishing happens, the damage done to the stocks must be repaired.

“This should happen, whenever possible, without ruining fishermen, in particular those who complied with the rules.”

Mackerel isn’t the only victim of Spanish fishing in the past 12 months. A total of 17 species were being netted into extinction according to the EU.

Due to the gross overfishing, the EU cut the quota of all fish removed from the waters by 800,000 tonnes.

Xavier Pastor, executive director of Oceana in Europe, said: “This annual deduction of fishing quotas is unfortunate, but countries should understand that there are rules to follow not only to be consistent with the law but also for the sake of the species.”

Greenpeace has accused the Spanish government of ignoring the situation in the seas.

The environmental group is concerned that fishermen are still receiving subsidies despite continuing to undertake illegal practices and repeatedly overfishing.

In particular, Greenpeace is critical of Galicia-based Vidal Armadores, a family-run company which received government funding of €16million between 2002 and 2009.

This was despite racking up fines of €3m during the same period, as well as being prosecuted by the British, American and Spanish authorities. This even resulted in the blacklisting of three vessels by the EU.

Unfortunately, this case is far from unique. An investigation (Looting the Seas) by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, found more than 80% of subsidized fishing companies in Spain have been fined for infractions.

And this all came with 2013 being the first year in ten when there was an actual reduction in the volume of overfishing… and an actual decline in fines imposed.

EU fisheries boss Damanaki noted the reduction in the total amount of overfishing and said she aimed to continue the trend, as ‘rigorously and fairly as possible’.

“Everything must be in the interests of the long term sustainability of our stocks,” she added.

Popular fish, such as Cod, Sea Bass and Tuna, may still be in great demand, but it is the species that aren’t on every menu that need to be embraced.

According to the EU there are now 25 species of fish not currently endangered, compared to only two 2005.

“These figures show that responsible fisheries management can work,” Damanaki added: “But we still need to strengthen our efforts to end overfishing.”

While it is clear the EU is keeping an eye on the situation and Greenpeace and Oceana are also constantly monitoring the situation, things are unlikely to change overnight.

So expect there to be a few jellyfish arriving on the beaches this time next year as well.

Claire Wilson

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  1. Who woulda thought that the lowly jellyfish could play such an important role in destabilizing ecosystems? Read more about this feedback dynamic between jellyfish and overfishing in the new book “Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean.”

  2. Before the Spain knockers get online – Oh sorry Fred’s there already – it should be noted that Cornish beaches were plagued this August, and maybe plenty of others. Locals advised that the cure for the sting of one particular ‘breed’ was immersing in salt water. Simples then

  3. One may remember well how easy one could buy chanquete in just about every beach bar despite it being illegal. The boats that fished them (now virtually unseen owing to stocks being diminished) are now mostly broken up or being used as BBQ pits. Apparently the fishermen didn’t learn. I smile when I notice the word “quota” mentioned in the article. Do those in authority actually believe quotas are actually adhered to? No way! Many Spanish fishermen bought British fishing boats (complete with licences of course) knowing that they could make nice profits out of them whereas the British fishermen could not. Presumably therefore, the Spanish are better at circumnavigating the quota system??

  4. John, I am indeed knocking Spain on this issue because it is a well known fact that Spain is the biggest fishing nation in the EU, and therefore it has the most responsibility. But, of course you have to keep going off on a tangent. Mind you, I forget that you don’t actually live here and you just rent an apartment out. So that makes you really qualified to talk about what is going on in Spain lol.

    Read all the fishing facts about Spain here from the ICIJ:


  5. Fred, you appear to ‘knock Spain’ on every issue. Can’t you speak to people without continually expressing derision. I think I read that John’s been living here for 26 years on and off. I wonder how long you have lived here then?

    And do you actually like living here? That’s the puzzling question I’m sure many readers would like to hear, as you seem to like to contribute on this website a great deal more than others, and always in an extremely negative manner.

    Do you ever leave your house we all ask?

  6. NO Fred I did not go off at a tangent. I was commenting that jelly fish occur in the UK too whatever the fishing quota issues – which indeed I am not qualified to comment intelligently on, unlike yourself of course. Would it be off tangent to write that there are more wasps around this year in the West Country or that flora and fauna patterns are changing each year. In the world outside your darkened turret there are suggestions that climate change is a factor. Were you aware of this? Do I profess to know much about that? No but I daresay it has nothing to do with Spanish fishermen. Your constant criticism of anything Spanish makes correspondents wonder why you stay. You must be a real killjoy in company, though I guess you daren’t express such negativity even in the bars of your clients in Malaga
    You persist in making wild assumptions about my knowledge of local matters as if I never spend time in Spain. You consider that being there 3 months of the year for the last 26 years, as a property owner, makes me somehow ineligible to comment and then add a spurious ‘lol’ which compounds your folly
    Fred, purely as a matter of interest to all of your readers, HOW LONG have YOU actually lived in Spain, please?

  7. John, when I refer to an article about Puerto Banus, you start talking about Mijas and now when I mention fishing in Spanish waters you start talk about Cornwall. Now you’re talking about wasps, and you say my comments are folly lol. You just can’t stay on topic.

    And yes, I do express my opinions to Spanish friends and clients and some agree, and of course some do not. It’s called debate, and it’s what blogs were invented for. No news is good news, you should know that by now John. Keep to topic and perhaps comment on the ICIJ’s findings. They are being too “negative” as well I suppose?

  8. John, you’ll have to make your own mind up about these things. I just state my opinions on the issues at hand and I try and keep on topic as much as possible. This article is ‘knocking’ Spain, so why don’t you write to the editor and take it up with him? Funny why you didn’t mention that.

    @Mr Stevens, keep guessing lol.

  9. Ooh Arr, that ancient Cornish wisdom, “salt water cures jellyfish stings”. They’ll tell a grockle anything to keep ’em spending. Suppose the Guiris are advised to pee on it to the same end. Both remedies equally useless of course. The second one is more entertaining though.

  10. Stefanjo. ‘Twas more than a piece of Cornish wisdom me ol son. If you watch Doc Martin you’ll be familiar with Port Wenn (Port Isaac mostly). Now just to name drop the young Lifeboat Captain, a recipient of several awards for bravery was chatting to me on the beach for a while. There are two jellies very common this year. The transparent lump which my grandson had great delight in throwing at his younger sister and I does not sting. The other, a Common Blue, does have a sting but it is minor because it is neutralised by the salt water though vinegar also does the trick. Swimmers, children and parents just ignored them
    I have to report though that I didn’t see any pixies this year
    Fred at 11.04 on the 23rd you wrote that you WERE knocking Spain. make your mind up either you are or you aren’t. We all know which it is, incessantly

  11. peeing on a jellyfish sting does indeed work (i can attest from first hand experience). And so will vinegar and (cheap) wine.
    Study highschool science if you want to understand why.

  12. jellyfish stings are alkaline. pee is acidic.
    As long as you’ve actually removed the jellyfish stinger, any acidic solution will neutralise the wound.

    there are many pseudo scientific websites repeating the “dont do it” mantra, without realising the original web article talked about pee on the actual stinger of the jellyfish – where any acidic or alkine solution will cause more toxins to be released…

    saying pee doesnt help fits in the same category as saying Bees shouldnt fly according to science. metaphysics at its best.

    Of course the proper solution is to get medical help (and pray the medics didnt get their info from wikipedia).
    PS. man-o-war isnt a jellyfish.

  13. It certainly isn’t a jellyfish but it still does the same business that pee won’t help. Besides, it’s doubtful that the genus would be argued by someone writhing in agony.
    They’d probably just pee themselves. Aah, that’s better….

  14. People who have resorted to trying pee on a sting say it works. Websites that partially copy other sources say it doesnt. Clearly you know better than everyone else, as shown by your comments to this and other articles.
    So people wont pee on you even if you’re on fire. That says it all doesnt it?!

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