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Bay of Biscay and the Iberian Coast

Summary

The Bay of Biscay and the Iberian Coast stretch from southern Brittany to the south of Spain. It is part of the route connecting the English Channel to the Mediterranean and Africa. The region is the cradle of Europe's maritime power. In the 15th and 16th centuries, it was from the Portuguese and Spanish coasts that intrepid explorers started their voyages of discovery.

Now, the really major cargo ports are gone, and fuel imports account for most shipping. There is still an active fishing industry, with local small-scale fishing in the Bay of Biscay, for instance, and deep-sea fleets based in Brittany and Galicia. A great deal of fish and shellfish farming takes place in the region, and beach tourism is well developed.

The Bay of Biscay and the Iberian coast.

Population

The largest city is Lisbon (around 3 million inhabitants), followed by Porto (1.7 million), Seville (1.5 million) and Bilbao (around 1 million).

Exploitation of resources

Fishing is a key activity in Galicia (Spain), South Brittany (France), the Basque country (France and Spain) and the Lisbon Region (Portugal). Annual catches amount to 560 000 tonnes (2007). The species fished for most widely is sardine, followed by Spanish mackerel, blue whiting, jacks, hake and albacore.

There are also landings from deep-sea fishing, the largest centres of which are found in this region: Vigo (Spain), Europe's leading fishing port (700 000 tonnes), Lorient (France), Lisbon (Portugal), Pasajes (Spain) and the tuna port of Concarneau (France). Marine aquaculture has been practiced in the region for many years, with major production centres: mussels and turbot in Galicia, oysters in Poitou-Charentes and the seabass and seabream hatchery in Cantabria.

There are also landings from deep-sea fishing, the largest centres of which are found in this region: Vigo (Spain), Europe's leading fishing port (700 000 tonnes), Lorient (France), Lisbon (Portugal), Pasajes (Spain) and the tuna port of Concarneau (France). Marine aquaculture has been practiced in the region for many years, with major production centres: mussels and turbot in Galicia, oysters in Poitou-Charentes and the seabass and seabream hatchery in Cantabria.

Transport of goods

Although the region does not have large commercial ports it does host a number of medium-sized ports. Energy products – gas, oil and coal - account for the majority of traffic. Other commercial traffic includes metal products, chemicals, soy, pulp and paper and containers.

Table: Major Southern Atlantic European ports

General traffic (1)

Container traffic (2)

Medium-sized ports

Bilbao (Spain)

Nantes-St Nazaire (France)

Sines (Portugal)

Huelva (Spain)

Gijon (Spain)

40

34

26

22

20

0.55

0.15

?

-

2.6

(1) Million tonnes – Data for 2007 – Source: Porto d’Estado (Spain), Le Marin (France), IPTM (Portugal)

(2) Million TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) – Data for 2007, rounded off to ten thousand - Source: Porto d’Estado (Spain), Le Marin (France), IPTM (Portugal)

Passenger transport

A number of car ferry routes connect the Spanish coast (Bilbao, Santander, Gijón and Vigo) with British and French ports. The Bilbao-Portsmouth and Santander-Plymouth routes transport between 140 000 and 150 000 passengers a year each.

Tourism

Tourism is an important activity throughout the coastal area, from South Brittany to Andalucía. It is dominant in the French coastal area and takes a variety of forms, from sports tourism to gastronomy and seaside tourism.

In Portugal (Lisbon and its coast) and the southwest peninsula, seaside tourism is most popular. Hiking and cultural visits are the main form of tourism on the Spanish Atlantic coast. Cruises also represent an important activity in Lisbon (270 000 passengers in 2007).

In Portugal (Lisbon and its coast) and the southwest peninsula, seaside tourism is most popular. Hiking and cultural visits are the main form of tourism on the Spanish Atlantic coast. Cruises also represent an important activity in Lisbon (270 000 passengers in 2007).

Maritime safety

Maritime traffic is very heavy, particularly on the route that runs from the English Channel to the Strait of Gibraltar. Some 45 000 ships a year cross the waters off Galicia, where three rescue coordination centres are based. Lisbon is the seat of the European Maritime Safety Agency.

Defence

Naval military forces are present in this zone, especially at the US-Spanish naval base in Rota (Cadiz), where the US Sixth Fleet is a major influence.

Environment

Water degradation problems are less serious here than in other areas. Marine and coastal pollution is caused primarily by maritime traffic, which is a source of accidental pollution as well as deliberate discharges.

Galicia and South Brittany have been the scene of several oil slicks. Numerous protected marine areas already exist or are in planning stages, in the region's estuaries and bays (rias). Several areas extend at sea to the foot of the continental slope and include seamounts in waters off Galicia and Algarve.
Galicia and South Brittany have been the scene of several oil slicks. Numerous protected marine areas already exist or are in planning stages, in the region's estuaries and bays (rias). Several areas extend at sea to the foot of the continental slope and include seamounts in waters off Galicia and Algarve.

Research

The region has a number of marine research centres, both multipurpose (Lisbon) and specialised in fishing and aquaculture and marine biology (Vigo, Nantes, Lorient and Cadiz).

Governance

A large part of this marine area corresponds to the exclusive economic zones of France, Spain and Portugal, which extend 200 nautical miles from their coasts. The three States' territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles from shore. A large part of the zone lies in international waters.

For fisheries, the European Union manages European waters under the Common Fisheries Policy and consults the South Western Waters Regional Advisory Council. International waters are governed by several regional fisheries management organisations: the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas for tuna, swordfish and sharks.

For marine environmental protection, this region is also governed by the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR).

For fisheries, the European Union manages European waters under the Common Fisheries Policy and consults the South Western Waters Regional Advisory Council. International waters are governed by several regional fisheries management organisations: the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas for tuna, swordfish and sharks.

For marine environmental protection, this region is also governed by the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR).

Physical data

This zone of the Atlantic Ocean is wide open on three sides; it covers the entire Bay of Biscay, from the tip of Brittany to Galicia, and extends to the Strait of Gibraltar.

It corresponds to the wide continental shelf in the Atlantic west of France and the narrower shelf off the Iberian peninsula. It also encompasses the deep-sea plains at the foot of the continental slope, which reach 4 800 m in depth off Spain and Portugal.

There are few coastal islands, all of which are found on the French Atlantic shoreline. The main rivers that flow into it are the Loire, Garonne, Douro, Tagus and Guadalquivir. This is an area of heavy swells, winter storms and a high tidal range. Salinity is between 34°/°° and 35°/°° in Bay of Biscay coastal zones and between 35°/°° and 36°/°° off the Iberian peninsula. The water temperature ranges from 10 to 18° C in Brittany and 15 to 22° C in Andalucía.

It corresponds to the wide continental shelf in the Atlantic west of France and the narrower shelf off the Iberian peninsula. It also encompasses the deep-sea plains at the foot of the continental slope, which reach 4 800 m in depth off Spain and Portugal.

There are few coastal islands, all of which are found on the French Atlantic shoreline. The main rivers that flow into it are the Loire, Garonne, Douro, Tagus and Guadalquivir. This is an area of heavy swells, winter storms and a high tidal range. Salinity is between 34°/°° and 35°/°° in Bay of Biscay coastal zones and between 35°/°° and 36°/°° off the Iberian peninsula. The water temperature ranges from 10 to 18° C in Brittany and 15 to 22° C in Andalucía.

History

After being crisscrossed by the trade routes of the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans and Arabs, the region entered maritime history in the 15th century. Genoese, Portuguese and Spanish navigators explored the African coasts, taking possession of Madeira, the Azores and the Canary Islands before venturing further in search of maritime routes in the Indian Ocean and then in search of America. Lisbon, Seville and Cadiz became Europe's leading trade and financial centres thanks to the exploitation of resources from the new lands.

This was the age of triangular trade, with the African slave trade, and of the discovery of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, with Basque and Breton fishermen fishing these waters for cod. The Iberian centres lost their monopoly on the Atlantic trade in the 17th century. The French ports of Bayonne, Bordeaux, La Rochelle and especially Nantes took up the triangular trade in turn, followed by English and Dutch ports. These trade rivalries sparked numerous conflicts, naval battles and corsair wars between these powers.


With the end of the Atlantic trade in the 19th century, fishing became the region's principal maritime activity. The exploitation of Newfoundland's stocks constituted an important seasonal activity. The discovery of aseptic canning (1810) made it a centre of industrial development as increasing numbers of tuna and sardine canning plants (and fisheries) were built. South Brittany and Galicia remained major tuna centres even after fishermen moved farther afield to fish for tropical stocks in the 20th century. The commercial and strategic importance of these ports declined, however, until the Second World War, when Brest and Saint-Nazaire were used as the bases for Germany's Atlantic defence and became the target of heavy Allied bombings.

This was the age of triangular trade, with the African slave trade, and of the discovery of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, with Basque and Breton fishermen fishing these waters for cod. The Iberian centres lost their monopoly on the Atlantic trade in the 17th century. The French ports of Bayonne, Bordeaux, La Rochelle and especially Nantes took up the triangular trade in turn, followed by English and Dutch ports. These trade rivalries sparked numerous conflicts, naval battles and corsair wars between these powers.


With the end of the Atlantic trade in the 19th century, fishing became the region's principal maritime activity. The exploitation of Newfoundland's stocks constituted an important seasonal activity. The discovery of aseptic canning (1810) made it a centre of industrial development as increasing numbers of tuna and sardine canning plants (and fisheries) were built. South Brittany and Galicia remained major tuna centres even after fishermen moved farther afield to fish for tropical stocks in the 20th century. The commercial and strategic importance of these ports declined, however, until the Second World War, when Brest and Saint-Nazaire were used as the bases for Germany's Atlantic defence and became the target of heavy Allied bombings.

Bibliography

J. MARCADON, Les enjeux atlantiques, Ellipse, Paris, 2001.

J.L SUAREZ DE VIVERO, Atlas de la Europa maritima: juridicciones, usos y gestion, Edicones del Serbal, Barcelona, 2007.

J.R VANNEY, Introduction à la géographie de l’océan, Institut Océanographique, Paris, Océanis , Vol 17(1991), fascicule1-2

J. MARCADON, Les enjeux atlantiques, Ellipse, Paris, 2001.

J.L SUAREZ DE VIVERO, Atlas de la Europa maritima: juridicciones, usos y gestion, Edicones del Serbal, Barcelona, 2007.

J.R VANNEY, Introduction à la géographie de l’océan, Institut Océanographique, Paris, Océanis , Vol 17(1991), fascicule1-2

Useful links

Puertos del Estado » Port Traffic Statistics