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July 7, 2008

Masking Illegal Fishing — Covering Drift Nets

BY: Keith Ellenbogen


©OCEANA/ Keith Ellenbogen


Anchored outside the harbor of Isle De Ponza, Italy the Oceana team of photographers, videographers, scientists, and environmentalists boarded the yellow RIB (rubber inflatable boat) to in search of illegal driftnet fishing boats within the marina. Throughout the day we documented approximately 10 fishing boats with illegal driftnets — that were covered under tarps to mask their activities.

To help clarify some of the confusion of why driftnets are used in Italy I asked our lead scientist and fishing boat expert Maria Jose to explain:

Question: Are driftnets in Italy legal?

Driftnets are legal to catch small fish such as anchovies and sardines. But….(she quickly added)

NO. DRIFTNETS ARE NOT LEAGAL IN ITALY or anywhere in the Mediterranean to catch pelagic fish such as swordfish and Tuna — what the fisherman are really catching. This practice has been banned by the United Nations, European Union, and Italy.

Question: If driftnets are legal why do we call it illegal?

it’s a legal loop hole she explained that the fisherman have been taking advantage of — to catch tuna and swordfish (illegally).

For example:

1. Driftnets are allowed nets with mesh opening of 18cm — but the nets mesh opening is larger then the small fish i.e. anchovies — which easily swim through the net.

2. Driftnets are allowed to fish (using driftnets) up to18 miles from the coast — but at this distance you would not fish for coastal species such as anchovies and sardines.

The only logical explanation is that they are catching great pelagic species such as tunas and swordfish — which are illegal catches when they are targeted by driftnets.

Question: How can we consider this driftnet legal when its target catches only the prohibited species of tuna and swordfish?

Its crazy and it has been documented time and time again — by a number of organizations including Oceana that they are catching tuna and swordfish with these nets.

Question: What can be done?

Oceana and a number of organizations are asking the Italian Government to eliminate this legislation and legal loop hole immediately.

It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment. ~Ansel Adams