Many of the driftnetters that Oceana discovered fishing illegally had received subsidies from the EU to give up the use of this fishing method.
The EU Council of Fisheries Ministers is to debate next week the management of Mediterranean fisheries.
Oceana condemns the fact that the EU has spent tens of millions of Euros in its attempt to eliminate driftnets, yet there are still some 200 European fishing boats that continue to use them.
“European citizens are being swindled given that, through their public institutions, they have had to pay enormous sums of money in order to do away with driftnets. The money in question has been spent, but the driftnets have not disappeared. Quite the contrary, the money of European citizens has been used to subsidise the introduction of new driftnets into Europe”, according to Xavier Pastor, the Director of Oceana Europe.
In 1998, the EU agreed to prohibit the use of driftnets in its waters and by its fishing fleets. In this way, it was complying with the agreement reached some 7 years previously by the United Nations. In spite of this, about 200 European fishing vessels in the Mediterranean continue to use this harmful fishing method, to which some 200 more boats belonging to countries such as Morocco and Turkey need to be added.
One of the main reasons for prohibiting this fishing method was the high rate of incidental catches that it provoked. In the Mediterranean, less than 20% of the catches made corresponded to the target species, swordfish, while the remaining 80% was made up of dolphins, sperm whales, sharks, ocean sunfish and a long list of other marine species.
Italy is the European country to have been found most in breach of the regulation, with around one hundred vessels fishing illegally in the Mediterranean with driftnets, some of which can exceed 20 km in length. Italy has invested, with the aid of European funds, over 20 million to reconvert this fleet, yet many of the subsidised fishing boats, in spite of having received grants to this end, have not given up using this fishing method.
Both Italy and France (the latter has 76 illegal driftnetters) have tried to make a mockery of European legislation by changing the name of the nets that their fishing boats use. Consequently, the Italian net is now called the “ferrettara”, while the French net has been christened the “thonaille”. Italy has financed the use of the “ferrettara” with funds that were allocated to doing away with driftnets.
During July and August the Oceana catamaran, Ranger, sailed in the south of the Tyrrhenian Sea and in the waters around Sardinia in order to check if both European and international legislation was being complied with.
In just a few days, 37 vessels were encountered with driftnets; 18 of these had received subsidies aimed at doing away with driftnets. This aid came to a total of more than 600,000.
In June this year, the European Commission acknowledged the fact that the Italian government “had neither controlled nor satisfactorily inspected compliance with European legislation in this matter”. Moreover, both the European Commission and the French Council of State, have ruled that the nets being used by some of its fishing fleet under the name of “thonaille” are nets that are prohibited according to European law.
This is the scene facing the Fisheries Ministers from the 25 European Union member states at their meeting in Brussels the next week, which has been called to deal with this issue, among others.
“Europe has failed to observe United Nations Resolutions concerning fishing with driftnets for the last 13 years and, should it fail to reach a definitive agreement at this meeting for their elimination, the whole issue will have become a complete mockery of both the international effort in this area, and of European citizens”, claims Xavier Pastor.
Oceana has distributed the Report: “The use of driftnets: A scandal for Europe, a mockery of the United Natons” to all EU Ministers of Fisheries in advance of this meeting.