Oceana reveals European Commission documents proving illegal fishing of Mediterranean swordfish

Fisheries inspectors report illegal landing and selling of fresh Mediterranean swordfish in Italian markets during closed season.

Press Release Date: October 29, 2014

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

Despite overfishing, EU refusing to take action to recover Mediterranean swordfish

As EU Member State representatives meet in Brussels to discuss the EU position on management of highly migratory species such as bluefin tuna and swordfish, Oceana has unveiled a report by the European Commission that proves how the Italian fleet blatantly violates current international fisheries measures in force for Mediterranean swordfish[i].

“The EU should be the first one in ICCAT calling for management measures to rebuild Mediterranean swordfish, because it accounts for 90% of the fleet catching the stock, and has a legal obligation under the Common Fisheries Policy to bring the stock to MSY levels by 2015, or 2020 at the very latest” noted María José Cornax, fisheries campaign manager for Oceana in Europe. “Instead, this latest report shows that the EU – and Italy in particular – is illegally catching, landing, and selling this heavily overfished fish.”  

According to the report, EU inspectors in southern Italy during March 2013 noted the following infringements, after the closed season for the fishery had begun on 1 March:

  • “widespread presence of Mediterranean swordfish in the market”, both undersize and larger individuals
  • landings of up to 2 tons per boat per day
  • lack of required documents: vessel logbooks, landing declarations
  • total lack of intervention by local administrative authorities

The report reveals a total failure to comply with the March closed season for Mediterranean swordfish, a legally binding international measure that was established in 2011 by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Furthermore, the report indicates that the lack of enforcement by local authorities allowed illegally-caught swordfish to enter local markets, at elevated prices of up to € 30/kg.

Mediterranean swordfish has been overfished for more than a decade. The stock is fished without any catch limits, by more than 12,000 authorised vessels, of which 90% are EU-flagged. The fishing closures are inadequate to allow stock recovery, particularly given that 75% of catches are made up of juvenile swordfish that will never have the chance to reproduce.

Oceana urges the EU to propose, at the upcoming ICCAT meeting, measures in line with EU legal obligations to achieve sustainable fisheries management levels by 2015, or by 2020 at the very latest. If such measures are not proposed and adopted at this year’s ICCAT meeting, it will not be possible to meet these objectives.

Dr. Ilaria Vielmini, marine scientist with Oceana in Europe: It is now evident that the fishing closures only exist on paper. It is time to stop this farce by introducing a management plan based on catch limits, and with a clear recovery target. Otherwise, the fishery will never be properly regulated, and swordfish in the Mediterranean will not recover.

The upcoming ICCAT meeting will take place from 10-17 November in Genoa, Italy. Oceana will be attending the meeting as an observer, and calling for precautionary management of Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna, Mediterranean swordfish, and sharks. 

Learn more: Swordfish

Photos and video available for media use

Extracts from EC Mission Report IT-D2-2013-02-UA

[i] Oceana accessed the documents after an access to information request to DG MARE.