In 2007, 40% of the fleet of driftnetters in the Baltic was still operating.
Enforcing compliance with this prohibition is a challenge for both EU Fisheries Policy and marine conservation.
Since 1 January, the use of driftnets in the Baltic Sea, the Belts and the Sound is banned by the EU. This prohibition affects various EU member states. The target species of the driftnets used in this area is mainly Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). The use of driftnets not only endangers the conservation of wild salmon stocks, but also constitutes a serious threat for the conservation of the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena).
Driftnets are still used throughout the world in many oceans and seas, despite the ban on their use by United Nations General Assembly because of the serious threat they pose for the conservation of cetaceans and sea turtles.
In Europe, this fishing gear was prohibited in 2002 for capturing large pelagic species such as bluefin tuna and swordfish, affecting mainly the Italian and French fleets operating in the Mediterranean, and the Spanish and French fleets in the Atlantic. Yet five years after the prohibition entered into force, a lack of sufficient monitoring and enforcement by the competent authorities has lead to more than 150 European vessels continuing to use driftnets in the Mediterranean, as proven by Oceana during the last three years.
Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe, affirms: “The coming into effect of the prohibition of the use of driftnets in the Baltic may prove to be worthless if its compliance is not guaranteed by proving that lessons have been learned following the errors made in the Mediterranean”, and adds: “Oceana continues working to completely eliminate driftnets in the Mediterranean and, 5 years after the coming into effect of the prohibition, we have documented and reported more than 150 vessels that continue using this illegal fishing gear. This fact makes us doubt that the situation in the Baltic will be any different if measures are not adopted.”
According to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), up to 2006 salmon captured with driftnets constituted 70% of the total salmon catch in the area. Banning this fishing gear implies using other methods, such as longlining. It is estimated, however, that the use of longlines will not compensate the loss of this percentage of salmon catch, now that the ban has come into effect. On the other hand, 40% of the vessels authorised to use driftnets in 2003 are still doing so in 2007. This data does not offer much of a guarantee that the affected fleets will comply with the prohibition.
Xavier Pastor concludes: “The global ban on driftnets was the first case in which measures were taken against a fishing gear for conservation purposes. Fifteen years after the moratorium agreed by the General Assembly of the United Nations against this fishing gear, the problem still exists and continues to pose a serious threat for the conservation of endangered marine species and fish stocks, and this will not change if the governments do not take the necessary measures to ensure compliance with the prohibitions.”