It was three weeks ago when the New San Juan, a longline boat of 31 meters in length, had to stay moored for several days in the port of Burela (Lugo, 9,500 inhabitants). The shipowners wanted to send him as soon as possible to the Gran Sol, a fishing ground for hake and cock of the North Atlantic located in the west of the United Kingdom, but the daughter of the captain of the ship fell ill and he decided to stay in the hospital. There was no one to replace him. The unforeseen highlighted the shortage of personnel that has been ravaging the Galician fleet for years: the fishing sector, which generates more than 2% of the region's GDP and provides direct and indirect work for more than 100,000 people -According to data from the Xunta-, does not succeed relieve the first retirees of baby boom, the generation that was created in Spain as a result of some 650,000 annual births between the end of the decade of the 50s and 70s.
In the sea, where retirements begin to reach 55 years, companies have been suffering for a decade to find young people willing to spend in many cases long seasons on board without more contact with the world than the telephone and Internet equipment with which the ships count. The lack of new sap in the sector has led to more situations such as Burela: ships prepared to sail that do not leave port. In Vigo, for example, there have been at least a dozen cases in the last year in which the ships delayed their departure for weeks. "When you stop, it's because you've exhausted all the possibilities, and the damage in the value chain is huge," says Javier Touza, president of Cooperativa de Armadores de Pesca of the Port of Vigo (ARVI). The situation, together with the economic situation that the sector has faced during the crisis, has sent hundreds of boats to the scrapyard: if this year Galicia has 4,375 fishing vessels of great height, height and lowland, a decade ago they were 4,911, 12% more, according to the Xunta.
The shortage of personnel affects all positions: captains, heads of machines, other officers and sailors. The conditions of life in the sea, where seven months are spent without touching land, as in the Malvinas fishing ground, in the south of the Atlantic Ocean, do not attract young people. Pascual Ares, a professor at the Nautical School of Vigo, estimates that 40% of people who work in the ship's machines prefer to stay on land, on platforms or freezer halls: "And many of those who have to go the bridge [desde donde se dirige el buque] they prefer recreational boats. Take yachts from wealthy people in Mallorca, Menorca, Marseille ... They charge well and do not spend long periods without seeing their families. "
One of Vigo's main shipowners - he prefers not to give his name - relates that he has been suffering from retirement for almost a decade, with about four officers who retire from their boats every year as soon as they are old enough to collect the pension. "Sometimes I even had to talk to their women and ask them to please let them get on another tide, some of them agree, but most of them are tired and prefer to enjoy family after a life outside," she says. For young people to see the attractiveness of the sea, the Spanish Association of Fishing Nautical Titles (Aetinape) believes that companies should invest more in their future human capital: "Give shorter relays, no tides of seven months, modernize ships with better Internet equipment and raise the salaries of the lowest positions: if they go to pay 1,500 euros to a greaser or a sailor, they will prefer to stay on land charging 1,200, "says José Manuel Muñiz, president of the association.
From Aetinape point to another reason why new generations escape the sea: the 12 months of practices that students must take on a ship to obtain professional title. "The schools are full", adds Muñiz, "but the problem is that there is a bottleneck with the practices because most shipowners resist taking trainees and there are many people trapped in this situation." Although there are those who prefer to work on land after finishing their nautical studies, only among the three main schools of Galicia (Vigo, Ferrol and Ribeira) They already have more than 400 students, a high number, according to data from the Consellería do Mar. "The centers were never so full," insists Muñiz.
Vicente Yáñez, a 71-year-old retired teacher, worked for more than three decades in several schools. Yáñez, who was on board between 1968 and 1983, also believes that the conditions of the practices, which are regulated by royal decree 36/2014 and the International Convention STCW-F -which Spain signed in 1995-, have become another problem for the sector: "There is almost no shipowner to give practices, the most they offer is a sailor contract, decapitating fish on the deck, so the students do not have time for the internship, if life at sea is hard, If a student leaves school they do this, they do not have time to forget the profession. "
Galicia has this year with 4,375 fishing boats; a decade ago they were 4,911, 12% more
The practices are a thorny issue for shipowners and almost none want to give a public opinion, but in petit committee most speak of "flexibilizing" the criteria. These establish that the student must cover on board the log book of activities, that this must be signed by the captain, that the duration is 12 months and that there is a guardian who supervises. They also involve another occupied stateroom, that is, a bed in which a fellow student sleeps and not an experienced worker, which throws back many entrepreneurs. The president of ARVI, which has more than 200 boats of the almost 4,400 that Galicia has, he denies that in his cooperative they do not bring new workers: "I could give a detailed list of officers in practice on our ships, but we must make the bureaucratic obstacles more flexible and we are working on this with the administration."
Touza refers to the meetings they have had with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for the new decree law that will regulate fishing professional titles and that has provoked public confrontations between Aetinape and the bosses. The shipowners want to increase the professional skills of the officers - for example, that of the multi-purpose coastal skippers, which would go from directing boats of 24 meters in length to 60 miles from the coast to do so with vessels from 32 meters to 100 meters. miles-, but Aetinape and the teachers consider it a danger to safety. "Qthey want to lower the level of training so that more active people can occupy the command positions they need, con the dangers involved. This guarantees losses, as it did years ago, when ships went around due to bad maritime practices, "says Vicente Yáñez.
"Many young people prefer recreational boats. They charge well and do not spend months without seeing their families, "says a teacher
The level of confrontation was raised two weeks ago: Aetinape publicly threatened to file complaints with the European Maritime Safety Agency, the International Maritime Organization and the European Commission if the new decree grants more skills without further training. But the Federation of Fishermen's Guilds also believes that the solution goes through there. "The requirements are great even to be a sailor, before there was an unregulated education that was done at the foot of the port that has disappeared, a solution can be to give professional titles for work experience, giving more value to this than to training". says Basilio Otero, president of the federation.
Although few young people want to go to sea in the current conditions, this Monday will embark Borja Pérez, 25 years old and native of Cangas do Morrazo, a coastal town of the Rías Baixas, as a greaser on a ship that works in Malvinas. Perez, from a marine family, wants to be part of this aging sector that counted in 2015 -The last statistic of the Xunta- with 10,635 people on board ships. Only four years before were 12,552, 18% more. The family tradition, a life raft for the sector, also pushed Cristian Painceira, 29, to inshore fishing, his father's trade. Every morning it rises in Ortigueira (A Coruña, 6,000 inhabitants) to embark on the Painceira brothers, the boat of the family where he works with artisanal longline with his brother and father to fish bream, pout and other coastal fish. Painceira, who is a major mechanic and a coastal skipper, never doubted that his future was at sea: "I've been here since I was 18, and I always wanted it because it was easy for me to get in. My friends told me how I embarked , which is a hard life, but I just wanted to work. "