During May this year, Oceana documented the use of driftnets in the Tyrrhenian Sea in order to verify the effectiveness of the new “zero tolerance” policy of the Italian Minister of Fisheries, Paolo De Castro.
Based on the preliminary results, Oceana is asking for the repeal of the Italian decree authorising the use of the driftnets known as ferrettara.
Driftnets, banned by the European Union since 2002, continue to pose a threat to the conservation of marine mammals and fish stocks in the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The international organisation Oceana has documented the activity of 84 driftnetters, both on the high seas and on land in the ports of Campania, Sicily and Calabria.
In the Aeolian Islands, Oceana documented the catching of tuna and swordfish using ferrettara, a driftnet according to the terms defined in the EU prohibition, but contradictorily authorised by the Italian ministerial decree of 24th May 2006. According to the decree, this fishing technique is defined as using nets with a maximum mesh size of 18 cm, used within 10 miles of the coast, and with a maximum length of 2.5 km.
Xavier Pastor, marine biologist and Executive Director of Oceana in Europe, declared: ”The terms defined in the decree leave us no doubt that ferrettara nets are being used for catching species prohibited by the EU in Regulation 1239/98, although until now we have been unable to verify this”, adding that: “the Oceana Ranger has proceeded to notify the various Coast Guards of this activity but the fishing gear has not been confiscated, either because of disinformation with respect to the current legislation or perhaps due to a certain collusion on the part of the local authorities”.
This is in spite of the fact that the Italian government introduced a law prohibiting the carrying of driftnets on vessels at the beginning of the year, in which Italian authorities have the authority to confiscate this gear on vessels in port. Meanwhile, Oceana observers have detected as many as 65 vessels with driftnets, either on board or on the dock, in Italian ports. Many of these vessels have already been reported, during the organisation’s 2005 and 2006 campaigns.
It was also verified that this fleet’s vessels are now concentrated in key ports such as Bagnara Calabra, Porticello, and Sant’Agata di Militello, which normally are their base ports, in contrast to the greater dispersion observed in previous years. Further, it has also been noted that a large number of fishing boats carrying another type of driftnet, known as spadara, hold seining or longlining licences.
Xavier Pastor expressed his concern with respect to this fact: “We hope that seining or longlining licences are not serving as a cover for the illegal fishing of bluefin tuna with driftnets. The Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries must ensure that in the distribution of the bluefin tuna quota for 2007, none of these vessels are included among the beneficiary producer organisations".
According to the marine conservation organisation: ‘’If the “zero tolerance” policy is genuine, the decree allowing the ferrettara must be repealed and inspections must be carried out in ports, rather than the visual and mediatised actions currently taking place on the high seas.’
A report will soon be published containing the comprehensive results of Oceana’s 2007 campaign against the use of driftnets in the Mediterranean. The results of the 2006 campaign can be found in the report: Italian Driftnetters 2006.