As stocks deplete, Greek fishermen scrap boats and livelihoods

ASPROVALTA, Greece, July 2 (Reuters) - Panagiotis Pagonis stands on the deck of his fishing boat off Asprovalta in northern Greece, grimacing at another empty catch. "It's all gone to hell," the 72-year-old mutters as the early glimmer of dawn lights up the waters.

Ten days later, he looks on as the mechanical arm of a bulldozer rips through his vessel, the Katerina, crushing a lifetime of memories. He has been at sea since he was a child. But the scrap yard takes just minutes.

Hundreds of fishermen like him are turning in their boats and their licenses, partly because catches are down, partly because the EU and the Greek government are offering them cash to leave the trade, under a scheme to protect fish stocks.

26 PHOTOS
Greek fishermen scrap boats and livelihoods
See Gallery
Greek fishermen scrap boats and livelihoods

Dimitris Karapetsas, 67, fishes onboard Panagiotis Pagonis' boat "Katerina" off the shores of Asprovalta, Greece, June 12, 2018.

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

A catch of shrimps are seen on Panagiotis Pagonis' boat "Katerina", off the shores of Asprovalta, Greece, June 12, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

Panagiotis Ioannou, cuts wood at his traditional shipyard in the port town of Ierissos, Greece, June 1, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

Fisherman Stelios Didonis, 48, is seen onboard his boat "Panagiotis" at the port town of Stavros, Greece, June 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

Fisherman Panagiotis Pagonis, 72, pulls in the nets onboard his boat "Katerina", off the shores of Asprovalta, Greece, June 12, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

Fisherman Stelios Didonis, 48, stands onboard his boat "Panagiotis", two days before it is destroyed, at the port town of Stavros, Greece, June 11, 2018.

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

Fisherman Dimitris Karapetsas, 67, tries to release a fish from the net onboard Panagiotis Pagonis' boat "Katerina", off the shores of Asprovalta, Greece, June 12, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

Dimitris Karapetsas, 67, fishes onboard Panagiotis Pagonis' boat "Katerina" off the shores of Asprovalta, Greece, June 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

A worker kneels under Stelios Didonis' fishing boat "Panagiotis" before it is sent for destruction, at the port town of Stavros, Greece, June 13, 2018.

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

Dimitris Ioannou, 30, works on a wooden tourist boat at his family's traditional shipyard at the port town of Ierissos, Greece, June 1, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

The steering wheel of Ioannis Loukakis' fishing boat "Smaragdi" is seen in the village of Sarti, Greece, May 25, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

The sea is seen through a window at a traditional shipyard belonging to Nikos Glannakis in the port town of Ierissos, Greece, June 1, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

A fishing boat sails near the shores of Asprovalta, Greece, June 12, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

Bits of wood rest against a wall at Vasilios Kefalas's traditional shipyard in the port town of Stavros, Greece, June 1, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

A boat that is to be destroyed is seen at the port town of Ierissos, Greece, June 1, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

Fisherman Panagiotis Pagonis, 72, (L) and his fellow fisherman Dimitris Karapetsas, 67, are seen onboard Pagonis' boat "Katerina" off the shores of Asprovalta, Greece, June 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

A piece of Panagiotis Pagonis' fishing boat "Katerina" is decorated with its name after it was destroyed in the town of Asprovalta, Greece, June 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

Ioannis Loukakis sits next to his destroyed fishing boat "Smaragdi" at the village of Sarti, Greece, May 25, 2018. Loukakis said he was scrapping his boat, "because of my age and because I am tired. There are also too many expenses for oil, fishing lures and baits." I am feeling like I've been stabbed with a knife," he said of destroying his boat, "it is as if a human is dying." 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

A crane destroys Theodoros Karagiannis' fishing boat, "Agios Theodoros", at the port town of Stavros, Greece, June 13, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

Theodoros Karagiannis, 61, carries a piece of his destroyed fishing boat, "Agios Theodoros", at the port town of Stavros, Greece, June 13, 2018.

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

A crane destroys Theodoros Karagiannis' fishing boat, "Agios Theodoros", at the port town of Stavros, Greece, June 13, 2018.

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

Fisherman Panagiotis Pagonis arranges his nets as his wife Vassiliki stands on the balcony of their house at the town of Asprovalta, Greece, June 21, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

Fisherman Panagiotis Pagonis, 72, pets a dog while sitting with friends next to the pier in the town of Asprovalta, Greece, June 22, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

A boat under construction sits by the sea at Nikos Glannakis' traditional shipyard at the port town of Ierissos, Greece, June 1, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

A fishing net from Panagiotis Pagonis' boat "Katerina" floats off the shore of Asprovalta, Greece, June 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

A flock of sheep pass by Stelios Didonis' fishing boat "Panagiotis", as it is sent for destruction, at the port town of Stavros, Greece, June 13, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Europe's environment agency says those stocks have reached a critical level in the Mediterranean, with serious implications for the people living on its shores who have found their food there for centuries.

Pagonis says the catch has fallen by 50 percent in recent years, a repercussion he believes of over-fishing, lack of regulation and pollution. That, together with higher running costs for his boat, forced his hand.

"I have been doing this job for 67 years. I have traveled to practically all of Greece, and now, I have reached my limitations," he says.

"I feel sad, I didn’t want it to end this way.”

Squeezed by an economic crisis which has sapped salaries and pensions and left a fifth of adult Greeks jobless, many fishermen have found the compensation too tempting to ignore.

Payments range from 6,000 to 260,000 euros ($7,000 to $302,500), depending on the size of the boat.

People can simply turn in their licenses and find something else to do with their vessel. But to get the full payment, they have to take their boat to the scrap yard.

"This is the option chosen mainly by the fishermen. While there is an option to switch its use, from a fishing vessel to a tourist or passenger vessel, there is a reduced subsidy," an agriculture ministry official says.

It has had a knock-on effect on traditional shipbuilders.

"They want to stop (over) fishing to protect the sea. But destroying boats will destroy us as well. So I think they are not doing something right," says shipbuilder Yannis Prasinos.

It is a painful process for Stelios Didonis, another fisherman giving up his boat at the scrap yard.

"The sea is my entire life," the 48-year-old says. He is looking forward to resting for a month, tired from getting up at 4.00 a.m. for 30 years. But he is not sure what he will do after that.

"I will think about it and see, I will do something, but whatever it is, it will be something that has to do with the sea, I cannot stay away from the sea." ($1 = 0.8591 euros)

(Writing by Michele Kambas Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Read Full Story