Spain’s struggling fishing industry relies on migrant labor

Spain’s struggling fishing industry relies on migrant labor

Spain’s fishing industry can barely stay afloat without foreign workers. But with its future uncertain, those with jobs in the difficult sector are looking to alternatives.

Picture 1: Painful memories

It is difficult for Senegalese fisherman Pabou Diouf to hear about migrants arriving in the Canary Islands on boats. It reminds him of the perilous and arduous journey he made 17 years ago, when he crossed the Mediterranean Sea to eventually reach Borella, a fishing port on the northern coast of Spain.

Image 2: Blurred horizons

Diouf was able to secure a new life in Spain thanks to his hunting skills. Spain has the largest fishing fleet in the European Union. But fewer Spanish citizens want to work in the industry, which has become increasingly dependent on foreign workers.

Image 3: Multicultural crew

Foreign workers make up about seven out of every 10 crew members in Borella’s fishing fleet, said Juan Carlos Otero, of the Borrella Boat Owners Association. The population of the fishing village of Borella is about 9,450 people from 44 countries. 90 men from Senegal and 244 from Cape Verde.

Image 4: The struggle for survival

But despite foreign labour, Spain’s fishing industry is struggling to survive. Experts warn it could collapse within three years at Borella, where half the fleet is longline fishing, which has been hit by an EU ban on bottom trawling.

Image 5: “I sleep when I can, not when I want to”

Diouf works alongside other Senegalese, Spaniards and Indonesians on the Saridal River. In 14-hour shifts, they haul nets, clean their catch and put them in boxes. “It’s been like that all my life,” Diouf said. “I sleep when I can, not when I want.”

Photo 6: Cramped conditions

It’s crowded in the ship’s cabin. Captain Francisco Gonzalez Garcia said Spain’s fishing industry would not survive without foreign workers. “There are very few young Spaniards, so the future is training immigrants,” he explained.

Photo 7: A well-earned break

It’s time for a coffee break for these Indonesian longline fishermen. Their skills are so sought after that boat owners often pay for their trips to Spain. Others have to find work through word of mouth, or, if they have residence permits, by coming to the dock to see if they can get a contract.

Image 8: Preparing for the future

Diouf is satisfied with his income, which allows him to pay rent, feed his family and send money to his older children in Senegal. But he’s also preparing for a post-hunting career, training himself to handle a chainsaw and lawnmower, in addition to driving a truck.

Writer: Claudia Dehn, Reuters

First published: February 11, 2024

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