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June 21, 2006

The Eolie Islands – Day 1


Soledad Esnaola woke me this morning at 5.30 a.m. with a single word: “driftnetters”. At last, I was to have the chance to see at first hand one of the most harmful and regrettable illegal fishing nets and to confirm that their use, in spite of the prohibitions, is still possible and goes completely unpunished. I ran up on deck and there it was, the driftnet vessel, only a stone’s throw away, unhurriedly reeling in these nefarious nets without a care in the world. In order to avoid identification they had covered up the name of the boat, but the ship’s register was enough to enable Xavier to alert the Coast Guard. After reeling in the nets they headed straight for the Ranger. As the crew began to shout and gesticulate at us, they came up so close astern that for a moment there I thought both boats were going to collide. Carlos Pérez alerted the “Securité” by radio and practically immediately we lost sight of them, though we continued to monitor them at all times, thanks to the radar.

Later on we came across them again along with an alleged trawler hauling in driftnets. Many a driftnet vessel uses driftnets along with bottom line boats or trawlers, thus on the one hand they take advantage of several seasonal fishing grounds, while on the other hand, by keeping the legal nets in view, the illegal driftnets are hidden and go “unnoticed”. Both ships have again shown themselves to be rather hostile in their manner, thus leaving us no other option but to alert the Coast Guard.

I have spent the day between a feeling of rage provoked by the prevailing permissiveness with respect to this illegal fishing practice, and a sense of great pity, on reflecting that, even by using kilometres of such nets, the catch has been minimal. This is obviously a result of having exhausted the stocks over decades by the same people who are now suffering the consequences of this shortage, and which, instead of fighting to recover a resource that belongs to them, they are quickly doing away with the remains of a heritage that belongs to us all.

With the fall of evening the bad taste left by the day’s events has vanished. The mirror-like sea, the reflection of the lights dancing on the sea surface and a family of striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) frolicking about the ship’s prow have restored my faith.

Today I have gone to bed accompanied by images of the dolphins and explosive flashes emanating from the Stromboli volcano affording momentary light to the darkness of the watch. What more could one ask for?