The Argentines did not draw the sea. They do not conceive it as a sovereign territorial space. The territory, to be defined, results in an outline map, full of gulfs, capes, peninsulas and bays, but beyond, within the water, although there is an abundance, it seems to the collective unconscious that there is little or nothing. Nobody draws Argentina including the call exclusive economic zone, which extends to mile 201 from the coasts of the Atlantic coast. In conclusion, very few know that 33% percent of the national territory is deep and diverse ocean. Or few, furthermore, emphasize that if the Malvinas Islands are Argentine – an unalterable claim – it is because those unknown and ancient archipelagos are within the limits of the Nation.
As the sea is a recreational and vacation space, as it is practically ignored, almost no one knows what happens there with the management, out of control, of natural resources. Nobody knows that Argentina is committed to protecting 30% of its maritime surface by 2030, creating areas protected from the extractive threat. Nobody knows that beneath that undulating, bluish plain, an ecocide is taking place, systematically and silently. A clearing like those in the native forests of Santiago del Estero and Salta, where the forest law is often violated. Only here, in the sea (this note is written from the confines of Chubut), there is no law and this mechanism called trawling annihilates hundreds of species in pursuit of a multimillion-dollar business that seems to have no roof.
We have been talking about technique because the strength of environmentalism is making the issue surface. Fishermen – both workers and business owners – know that they manage a resource that can be exhausted.
They quietly assume that there are things to discuss, that the bans that exist for them “are lax,” that bribery is commonplace and that “they control themselves” in a business that never stops. They finance politics, influence journalists and legislators. They know it exists a system that benefits them to the detriment of naturethat the wheel spins and cannot be stopped.
They fish for shrimp and to a lesser extent hake, paying negligible tariffs for these fishing quotas. They pay, according to a widespread consensus, relatively little. Many companies with the Argentine flag are financed by international capital (Chinese, Spanish, Taiwanese, Korean). The fishing regime is designed to suit those who win, without supervision, with an economic criterion but without parameters of care for nature: without sustainability ranges.
Fishing exports 2.5 billion dollars per year. Fleets of boats leave daily from Mar del Plata, Rawson, Trelew. Yellow and red fleets, which pass the red one, unload product at port and ship 95% of everything they bring abroad. Almost none of everything that is removed from the sea is consumed in Argentina (Mile 201 is a separate topic from the entire scenario described here).
Out to sea, they cast nets that can be 18 meters in diameter. Those nets become inflated like an orange balloon with tons of prawns. In the sweep they crush and kill all types of species. These species are discarded, dead, into the sea. This week the video of one of those fat nets became known as a result of a massive discard of prawns. committed by Rawson dock workers in a protest late last year. Discarding is like a double play.
Trawling also has a powerful climate impact. Marine sediments are an important carbon reserve and help mitigate global warming. As the nets degrade the seabed, large amounts of carbon are released and returned to the atmosphere.
A study published this month in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science has found that trawling is responsible for the emission of up to 370 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per yearmaking it a destructive practice for both ocean life and the climate.
According to the article, bottom trawling. carried out between 1996 and 2020 contributed 0.97 parts per million of CO2 to the atmosphere. If it continues as it is, the authors predict it will add between 0.2 and 0.5 ppm more CO2 by 2030. For context, the growth rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is currently increasing by an average of 2.4 ppm per year. year, according to the Global Carbon Budget 2023 report.
Trawling has been causing all kinds of havoc in the Argentine sea for more than 50 years.
“Global warming is like death by 1,000 cuts. There are many different sources that produce CO2 emissions,” says Enric Sala, marine ecologist, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and one of the authors of the new study. “Emissions from bottom trawling are small compared to those produced by burning fossil fuels on land, but everything, everything counts.
To curb this destructive practice, consumers could make an effort to avoid bottom-trawled fish in the supermarket, but Sala adds that, except in a few specific cases, this may not make a difference. In his opinion, the objective should be to ensure that protected areas completely restrict this fishing technique. Create closed zones.
This discussion is beginning to be incipient in Argentina. A sector of environmentalism and politics is working so that the issue finally comes up for debate. “The most logical thing would be to prohibit bottom trawling in marine protected areas,” says Sala: “Let’s start there,” he adds. But Argentina has its specific context. A brand new president who wants to change everything. An ruling party that opened the debate on the wrong side. The Omnibus Law sought to modify the fishing regime, without addressing any of the issues narrated up to this point.
Changes in Milei’s law
A reversal that will not necessarily imply that things will improve. This is how environmentalism reads what happens with the modifications to the fishing regime promoted by the Omnibus Law with which President Javier Milei intends to reimburse Argentina. Under pressure from the industry and the coastal provinces of Patagonia, the Government was able to repeal the articles that generated anger.
The modification of the fishing regime generated a great public and parliamentary debate. He got the mass media talking about fishing. An untouched topic. The debate opened on an unexpected angle. For the fishing boats, Milei finished off the Argentine sea, she granted it to the Chinese lurking at mile 201. She abandoned the Argentine ports. She finished off the exclusive economic zone.
“The basis of the problem is that the current players in the sector, regardless of a technological update in recent years, carry out their activity almost free of charge,” explains a sector expert consulted by Clarion. “Thus, a natural resource that belongs to all Argentines is exploited without the population being able to appropriate the part of the income that corresponds to them,” he adds. He asks that his name not be revealed because he is a “fundamental player.”
Royalties for shrimp fishing are around 0.3%. Those of hubbsi hake are around 0.15%. “This is one of the problems that urgently needs to be solved. In this way, the project encourages the bidding of fishing quotas, increasing the tariffs paid by companies. Great confusion occurred as a consequence of the incorporation of the word international in the quota allocation system even though the project did not modify the exclusivity of Argentine vessels for fishing activity. That was corrected,” says the analyst.
This word was removed in the new version of the law, clarifying this confusion. Regarding the initial project, article 7 was also modified and the derogations of articles 25 and 40 of Law No. 24,922 were eliminated, thereby maintaining the obligation to unload at port and have an Argentine crew. Relief for local industry, yes, but nothing said about the protection of a resource that can be terminated.
The voice of an expert
Leandro Calvo is a lawyer, secretary of the Misión Atlántico foundation. The organization promotes from Chubut a necessary debate on the creation of marine protected areas. They include the voice of dozens of NGOs gathered around the Forum for the Conservation of the Argentine Sea. Everyone believes that the fishing industry should discuss with environmentalism a form of “no take” zone for the preservation of ecosystems and the sustainability of the resource.
“It would be good for everyone,” says Calvo, “but the debate started on the other side. What we see is that today the fishing law is setting lax and questionable standards. They are not just economical. The Omnibus Law proposes transitioning towards a criterion that addresses only the economic variable. In addition, the fault criteria are being eliminated. The only variation that the government increased was the international criterion. That is a make-up because what you have is international capital financing Argentine companies.”
“The fishing we have needs to be improved. Do not deepen extractivism. We need a change that goes towards sustainability, with fishing gear that is less harmful to the environment. Our ultimate goal is to create a marine protected area. Argentina has international commitments in this regard and must comply to avoid colliding, among other things, with markets that demand respect for the environment. “Saving the sea is also saving the fishing business.”
Calvo concludes: “In summary, we agree on the need to update fishing legislation, but we advocate the construction of broad consensus, with sustainability as the central axis. We announce that, if the modifications proposed by the National Executive Branch are accepted, foreign companies would clearly benefit to the detriment of those that have invested and have a productive history in our country, deepening the primarization of the productive matrix and the deterioration of our sea.