The European Union will provide funds for the conversion of the Moroccan drift netting fleet within the framework of the recently ratified fisheries agreement.
Oceana is sceptical about this and demands effective control measures to ensure compliance with international agreements.
The last step was taken in the approval of the fishing agreement between the European Union and the Kingdom of Morocco on February 27, in Rabat. This agreement destines €161 million to Morocco as economic compensation in exchange for allowing fishing activities to ocurr within its waters; of this amoung €1.25 million per year will be used for the elimination of the Moroccan driftnetting fleet.
Morocco is currently halfway through a National Plan for the elimination of these nets and the conversion of the fleet, as presented to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) in 2004, and which must be completed by December 31, 2008. Both the European Union and the United States are supporting Morocco in its endeavour to carry out this plan through an environmental cooperation agreement signed in November of 2006.
During the 2006 campaign to document the use of driftnets in the Mediterranean Sea, Oceana observers aboard the Oceana Ranger research catamaran filmed and photographed the activity of the Moroccon fleet in the Alboran Sea. In addition, the investigators were able to confirm large quantities of this fishing gear in the Moroccan ports of Nador, Alhucemas and Tangiers.
Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana Europe, is somewhat sceptical about the effectiveness of granting these subsidies: “This economic provision is a positive step towards the elimination of drift nets in Mediterranean waters, but only if this activity is carefully monitored. The outcomes of other attempts to dismantle or convert driftnetting fleets, for example what happened with the Italian fleet, justify a certain degree of scepticism regarding the results. Far too often, these operations, made possibly by taxpayer money, turn into fraud if effective control and follow-up measures are not put into practice”
Currently, more than 150 Moroccan vessels are still fishing with driftnets in the Straits of Gibraltar and the Alboran Sea. This fishing gear was banned in 1992 by the United Nations as well as by ICCAT and the European Union. And since 2005, the capture of large pelagic species with drift nets of any length has been banned in waters of the Mediterranean Sea by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean.
In 2003, a WWF study estimated that 3,647 striped and common dolphins are trapped each year in Moroccan driftnets in the Alboran Sea and 13,358 in the Straits of Gibraltar. These are not the only species affected by this activity -- pilot whales, fin whales and sea turtles are also victims of this fishing gear. This situation is unsustainable for the survival of these species within this area of such vital importance for their conservation.
The scepticism regarding this part of the fishing agreement with Morroccco becomes more acute if we take into account that 95% of the swordfish captured by the Moroccan driftnet fleet is exported directly to the European Union mainly through Spanish companies headquartered in Vigo. Only 2% of the swordfish captured by these driftnets is consumed in Morocco.
Xavier Pastor adds: “It is contradictory that on one hand, there is an attempt to implement a prohibition, but on the other, incompliance with international agreements is being promoted through demand for the product., It is absolutely necessary to implement control measures to guarantee compliance with the reconversion plan for the Morroccon driftnets, because at this point visible results should already have been produced”, and he concludes: “Hopefully, these new efforts will not be useless and the doubts we have will be proven unfounded. On the part of Oceana, we will continue to follow up on the promised reconversion of the Moroccan driftnets, until, on January 1, 2009, not one vessel using this gear is left. We hope the official fisheries planning and surveillance bodies will do the same”, concludes the oceanographer Xavier Pastor.