Italian government keeps challenging EU driftnet ban

With a letter and a formal complaint, Oceana calls on the European Commission to take action against the illegal use of ferrettare in Italy

Press Release Date: May 4, 2010

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

With a letter today addressed to Commissioners Dimas and Borg, Oceana, the international marine conservation organization, has called for an end to the illegal use of an Italian driftnet called ferrettara. 


The letter, which follows a recent formal complaint submitted by Oceana to the European Commission, provides evidence of the illegal catch of vulnerable highly migratory marine species, such as bluefin tuna, by some Italian vessels currently authorized to use ferrettare.


EU legislation[i] prohibits the use of all types of driftnets to catch a very long list of highly migratory marine species, including, among others, albacore, bluefin tuna, swordfish and sharks, as well as cetaceans and turtles. Despite this fact, ferrettare are still illegally authorized in Italy.


In recent years, the Italian Government has nationally regulated the use of ferrettare to catch prohibited species. Italian Ministerial decrees have, for example, authorized the use of ferrettare made with a large mesh size that can catch prohibited species and is deployed in widespread areas very far from the coast where these species live. Furthermore, Italy has also established ´special permits´ that derogate from existing rules for vessels registered in the Isle of Ponza and has set up a new un-transparent regime regulated through individual licensing. Recent national legislative developments seem to promote the use of ferrettare rather than strictly regulate their use to comply with existing EU legislation.


Existing scientific reviews, in addition to Oceana’s recent evidence, prove that in the last few years considerable amounts of cetaceans, bluefin tuna, sharks and others species have been regularly but illegally caught in Italy with ferrettare, failing to comply with EU rules. 


“Ferrettare are a well known example of how the EU driftnet ban has been jeopardized and Oceana calls on the Commission to take proper action to ensure Italy’s compliance with existing EU rules”, says Xavier Pastor, Executive Director for Oceana in Europe.


In its formal complaint, Oceana documented, among others, the landing of illegal tuna caught with ferrettara by several boats in the Porticello Port near Palermo (Sicily) on 21 May. Here, ferrettara licenses represent over 20% of the fleet.


Italy has not yet implemented correctly EU legislation on driftnets, despite it clearly provides both a ban on driftnets longer than 2.5 km in length and the catch of highly migratory species. Evidence documented by Oceana includes the catch of prohibited species with ferrettara. Italy’s long-standing record of illegal driftnet use have lead to a still pending European judicial case[ii] whose future outcome will hopefully help reverse the ongoing destruction of marine biodiversity.


Report: “Italian driftnets. Illegal fishing continues”

Oceana TV: “Driftnets. Death curtains”

Video footage and photographs available


(1)     Council Regulation 1239/98[i] provides that from 1st January 2002 no Community vessel may keep on board , or use for fishing, driftnets intended for the capture of species listed in its Annex VIII: Albacore (Thunnus alalunga), Bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), Bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus), Skipjack: (Katsuwonus pelamis), Atlantic Bonito (Sarda sarda), Yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), Blackfin tuna (Thunnus atlanticus), Little tuna (Euthynnus spp), Southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii), Frigate tuna (Auxis spp), Oceanic sea breams (Brama rayi) Marlins: (Tetrapturus spp.; Makaira spp.), Sailfishes: (Istiophorus spp), Swordfishes (Xiphias gladius), Sauries (Scomberesox spp; Cololabis spp) Dolphinfishes (Coryphúna spp). Sharks: (Hexanchus griseus; Cetorhinus maximus; Alopiidae; Carcharhinidae; Sphymidae; Isuridae; Lamnidae). Cephalopods: (all species). The Regulation also prohibit the landing of the species menationed in Annex VIII. Furthermore Council Regulation (EC) 1967/2006 provides that the catching, retention on board, transhipment or landing of marine species referred to in Annex IV (such as cetaceans and turtles) of Directive 92/43/EEC shall be prohibited.


(2)     Commission versus Italy. Case C-249/08