Oceana investigators aboard the oceanographic vessel Marviva Med documented five fishing-boats from Sicily illegally fishing for swordfish in Tunisian waters.
Driftnets are an illegal fishing gear prohibited by the European Union since 2002 for all EU boats in any part of the world, and in the Mediterranean Sea by ICCAT and the GFCM.
The marine conservation organization Oceana is carrying out a project in conjunction with the Marviva Foundation in the Mediterranean Sea, aiming to protect fishing resources including bluefin tuna, denounce illegal fishing activities and protect endangered marine habitats.
This week, Oceana observers onboard the investigative boat, the Marviva Med, have identified and denounced the activity of various Italian vessels coming from ports in the northern and Ionian coasts of Sicily. These boats have found refuge for their illegal activities in neighbouring Tunisian waters. Their fishing trips last several days until they reach the swordfish fishing-grounds to the South of Sardinia and east of Tunis.
Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe and responsible for the campaign onboard the Marviva Med, again reiterated the need to stop this type of fishing: “Oceana has been undertaking this campaign against this illegal gear for the past four years. Some of these illegal fishermen are old acquaintances of our organisation, they have been observed and denounced in previous years for using driftnets and, in some cases, they have even been subsidised to convert to more sustainable gear”.
“Andrea Doria II”, “Ausonia”, “Saratoka”, “Ross Lucy”, and “Federica Secona”, are the names of the vessels whose illegal activity has already been denounced by Oceana to the Italian Coast Guard via emails sent from the Marviva Med. Apparently their structure and the equipment that they carry onboard represent the characteristics of trawlers and longliners. However, on the inside, they carry kilometres of the nets known as curtains of death, which they set at night and collect at sunrise in order to capture swordfish and tuna.
Many of these vessels have already been denounced in Oceana’s 2006 driftnet report and in the more recently published "Italian driftnets: the continuance of illegal fishing. Oceana Campaign Report 2007"
Italian driftnets are one of the principal causes of death for sperm whales and other cetaceans in the Mediterranean. Since good weather has allowed for the beginning of the fishing season, netted sperm whales, dead or dying, have reached the coasts of Calabria. Recently one of these cetaceans appeared in the Balearic Islands, dragged by the current and covered by the remains of the net.
Xavier Pastor added: “The frequency with which we observe and denounce these types of vessels is too high, considering that we are dealing with a type of fishing that was banned six years ago”. The use of driftnets is not limited to just the Italian fleet. Tunisia and Algeria also use driftnets to capture tuna, despite the international commitments adopted against this type of fishing by organizations such as ICCAT and the GFCM. Concluding, Xavier Pastor pointed out that: “More than 500 vessels continue to use driftnets in the Mediterranean Sea, which questions the validity of the legislation and international agreements, and which threatens the survival of protected species”.