ITALY - Oceana observers, together with Italian journalist Sabrina Giannini from Reportime, have gathered evidence of fishing boats using illegal driftnets in southern Italy’s port of Bagnara Calabra. This destructive fishing gear has been banned in the EU since 2002, due to high by-catch rates, and fishermen have been heavily subsidised to convert to other techniques. However, Oceana’s images show boats offloading swordfish, including juveniles, with driftnets on board.
“The illegal use of driftnets has been plaguing Italy for over 30 years. This destructive gear catches highly migratory species, cetaceans and sea turtles, and threatens traditional, and more selective harpoon fisheries in Sicily and Calabria,” stated Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe. “Oceana is concerned about this grave situation, and about the lack of awareness from the Italian authorities, who consider this issue to be closed”.
On 11 July, Italian Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies Martina declared that Italy has respected the ban rules, and as such the EU infraction procedure on the illegal use of driftnets had been closed. The European Commission has actually kept Italy on its list of countries to be closely observed since 1995, including official letters and court case. During this time Italy has gone from building loopholes to get around the Regulation, such as the adoption of the “ferrettara” (a driftnet with a smaller mesh size, but that can still catch highly migratory species), to attempting to conform to the ban on the catching of highly migratory species (tuna and swordfish) using any kind of driftnet.
Unfortunately, inspections have been inadequate, and though Italian authorities have increased controls over the past few years, it has not been enough to eradicate this problem. In light of the appaling ongoing use of illegal driftnets, Oceana urges the European Commission to open a new infraction procedure.
“The EU Italian Presidency must clearly define this fishery as what it really is: illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU), and those who are practicing it should be included in the EU’s list of IUU vessels,” added Mr Pastor.
“The illegal use of driftnets is particularly worrying in a region like the Mediterranean, where 91 per cent of fish stocks are overexploited, and several fish stocks, including that of swordfish, are declining.”
This situation is also exacerbated by Italy’s importation of swordfish illegally caught with driftnets in Morocco, which was also recently exposed by Oceana.
The stocks of highly migratory species, and of swordfish in particular, are highly affected by driftnet fishing. Oceana has drawn the attention of Italian and international authorities to the need to define a long-term management plan for swordfish in the Mediterranean Sea before it’s too late.
TheFishSite News Desk