Oceana uncovers dozens of cases of illegal fishing in protected areas in the Mediterranean

Italy is top offender, allowing bottom trawling in important fish habitats of heavily overfished species such as hake

Press Release Date: July 12, 2018

Location: Madrid


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

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Oceana launched today a report uncovering 41 potential cases of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Mediterranean Sea using data from Global Fishing Watch. The findings were submitted and discussed at two governmental meetings of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM)1, during which countries failed to provide clarification on whether any vessel has been fined or if any punishable action will be taken.

While Mediterranean governments and their leaders are committing globally to fight pirate fishing under the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the very same governments are turning a blind eye to potential cases in their own Mediterranean Sea. Information gathered by Oceana indicates that fishing vessels that can easily be identified are blatantly violating the law in fisheries-restricted areas. They’re doing nothing to uphold the law,” said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of Oceana Europe.

The Mediterranean is the most overfished sea in the world with more than 90% of stocks overfished. By not taking action governments are jeopardising the future of Mediterranean fisheries and the future of the more than 300,000 fishermen and their families who depend on this sea for food and income,” added Gustavsson.

The Report, compiled by Oceana, provides evidence of illegal fishing activities inside areas closed to fisheries (Fisheries Restricted Areas) designated to protect young fish, corals and other threatened habitats.

Shockingly, Oceana identified more than 20 Italian bottom-trawling vessels presumed to have fished for more than 10,000 hours within a closed area designated to protect young hake fish in the Strait of Sicily – where this fish population is severely overfished and where the amount of hake caught is 3 times above sustainable catch levels.

The extent of illegal fishing in the area may actually be much worse. Official sources have confirmed fishing activity has been reported by vessels that are flying the flag of another country – for example, the Tunisian flag – and that are not using an automatic identification system (AIS), therefore going undetected in the report.

Number of fishing hours per square kilometre for bottom trawlers operating in East of Adventure Bank  (Strait of Sicily) from December 2016 to December 2017

Additionally, Oceana has uncovered alleged illegal intrusions of foreign vessels into the waters of seven Mediterranean countries. Whether this is legal or not cannot be verified as, unlike other regional fisheries bodies around the world, the GFCM does not publish information on bilateral fishing arrangements. This lack of transparency makes it impossible to know if – for instance – three EU vessels that fished in Libyan waters (for more than 900 hours) and Tunisian waters (for more than 1500 hours), were fishing legally or not.

Note to editors:

  • Monitoring, control and surveillance are crucial to ensure proper fisheries management and to rebuild stocks, in particular in the Mediterranean Sea, where 90% of the stocks are considered to be outside biologically safe limits. Illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing endangers the efforts of GFCM Members to reverse this situation. Oceana has therefore presented this report documenting possible cases of illegal fishing in the Mediterranean, as well as recommendations on how to address this situation.
  • Back in October 2017, the 23 countries plus the EU that are members of the GFCM committed to a regional plan of action for the fight against IUU fishing.
  • Although it is difficult to determine the true scale and impact of IUU fishing, it is estimated to cost between US$10 billion and US$23.5 billion per year in global losses2

1.  (Agnew et al., 2009)

2.  Working Group on IUU Fishing (April 24 – April 27, Beirut, Lebanon) and Compliance Committee (CoC) – 12th Session (July 5 – July 6, Madrid, Spain).  FAO’s GFCM is the organisation regulating fisheries in international waters of the Mediterranean. The EU is among its contracting parties.