Open letter

This Open Letter will be sent to the Spanish Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Food and Environment, Ms. Isabel García Tejerina, on May 3, 2018. The aforementioned letter is open for organisations and individual persons to join as long as the lack of protection of red coral prevails. We appreciate the dissemination of this letter among your contacts and via social media by using the following hastags: #SOSCorallVermell #SOSCoralRojo.

Barcelona, 3 May 2018

Dear Minister Isabel García Tejerina,

Recently it has come to our attention that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Food and the Environment (MAPAMA), which you represent, has granted 12 permits for the extraction and sale of red coral (Corallium rubrum) in the external waters of zone 1 (Catalonia) [i,ii].

We are extremely concerned to hear this news, given that the latest scientific report available on red coral populations in Catalonian waters states that 90% of these populations (in both internal and external waters) are in a critical state of conservation [iii].

This report further states that the majority of these populations can be considered ecologically extinct. The scientific community therefore recommends the immediate imposition of a 20-year moratorium on red coral extraction, with the possibility of extension. Furthermore, in 2015, the alarming situation of this species was recognised through its inclusion in the “Endangered” category on the Mediterranean Red List drawn up by the IUCN [iv].

This situation prompted the Government of Catalonia, through Order ARP/59/2017 of 7 April, to i) reduce the number of permits from 10 to 5 for the 2017 season and ii) suspend extraction for 10 years (specifically until 31 December 2027) [v].

Following Order ARP/59/2017 of 7 April by the Government of Catalonia, the Government of Spain published Order APM/1101/2017 on 2 November, making reference to the moratorium imposed on the coast of Catalonia and indicating that “This prohibition, in accordance with what is stated in the second additional Provision of Royal Decree 629/2013 of 2 August, is extended, by means of the approval of this Order, in a perpendicular manner from internal waters to the contiguous or adjacent external waters”.

To general surprise, Order APM/1101/2017 of 2 November leaves open the possibility of extracting coral in those parts of the Catalonian coast where no internal waters exist (from Cap de Begur to Arenys de Mar), given that the extent of the prohibition zone is defined by perpendicular lines from internal to external waters. It is in fact the first legislative document related to this matter in which the term perpendicular appears. As well as permitting extraction activities, Order APM/1101/2017 of 2 November has increased the number of permits in zone 1 (Catalonia) to 12 (more than twice as many as in 2017) for a term of 2 years. Clearly, this Order ignores scientific advice regarding the grave state of red coral populations and the urgency of imposing a moratorium.

It is worth noting that the decision by the autonomous community of Catalonia to impose a moratorium on the extraction of red coral follows the recommendations of the General Fisheries Commission of the Mediterranean (CGPM) for the sustainable extraction of red coral [vi,vii]. It therefore seems hard to justify the fact that MAPAMA, instead of supporting the recovery of a species as iconic and as ecologically significant as red coral, is putting obstacles in the way of recovery efforts at both regional and international levels.

It is also worth pointing out that populations of red coral on the Catalonian coast have suffered an increasing number of cases of illegal extraction, leading to the seizure of more than 80 kg (tens of thousands of colonies) of red coral. Moreover, in the majority of seizures, between 80% and 90% of the illegally extracted coral colonies were smaller than the legally established minimum size. Owing to a lack of resources available to combat poaching, the quantities seized represent only a small fraction of the total amount extracted illegally.

For these reasons, we the undersigned entities, including numerous research centres, NGOs, environmental and underwater organisations, call on the Minister to:

  1. Rectify and revoke the 12 permits which have been granted in zone 1 (Catalonia) for the extraction and sale of red coral from external waters.
  2. Fully support Order ARP/59/2017 of 7 April, which establishes the temporary suspension of the extraction of red coral (Corallium rubrum), and extend this suspension to the whole Catalonian coast, considering at the same time its extension to the rest of Spain’s waters.
  3. Commit firmly to a change of direction in fisheries management, increasing the resources and tools available to improve scientific knowledge; guarantee proper control and application of existing regulations, especially those designed to combat poaching; and ensure the recovery of marine ecosystems to a healthy state for the benefit of all citizens, and not just for that of a small collective.

Research organisations adhered to the letter (updated: 08/05/2018):

1 Logos centres recerca blanc

Environmental organisations adhered to the letter (updated: 01/06/2018):

1 Logos ONGs blancOrganisations related to underwater activities adhered to the letter (updated: 01/06/2018):

1 Logos activitats blanc

[i] Orden APM/1101/2017, de 2 de noviembre, por la que se convoca el procedimiento de autorización para la extracción y venta de coral rojo [Disponible en el siguiente enlace].
[ii] Procedimiento de autorizaciones de pesca de coral rojo. [Disponible en el siguiente enlace].
[iii] Garrabou J., Linares C., Montero-Serra I., et al. 2017. Informe sobre el estado de las poblaciones de coral rojo (Corallium rubrum) en las aguas de Cataluña. Departament d’Agricultura, Ramaderia, Pesca i Alimentació, Generalitat de Catalunya. 39 pp. [Disponible en el siguiente enlace].
[iv] THE IUCN RED LIST OF ANTHOZOANS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. 2016. International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. [Disponible en el siguiente enlace].
[v] Orden ARP/59/2017, de 7 de abril, por la que se reduce el número de licencias para la pesca de coral rojo (Corallium rubrum) durante la campaña 2017 y se establece la suspensión temporal de la pesquería a partir de la finalización de la campaña de este año. [Disponible en el siguiente enlace].
[vi] Recommendation GFCM/35/2011/2 on the exploitation of red coral in the GFCM Competence Area. [Disponible en el siguiente enlace].
[vii] Recommendation GFCM/41/2017/5 on the establishment of a regional adaptive management plan for the exploitation of red coral in the Mediterranean Sea. [Disponible en el siguiente enlace].