Trawler, Strait of Sicily
© OCEANA/ IV

The combination of overfishing and an unprofitable fleet is starting to become a frequent occurrence in the Mediterranean. It may sound contradictory, since logic would seem to dictate that the more you fish, the more you earn, but the reality is that the consequences of reaching a certain level of overfishing has an impact on people.

Anyone who fishes wants to catch big fish. That’s just the way it is. And the result is that the population of large fish decreases and you have to spend more time fishing to earn the same amount of money. Sooner or later, your goal starts to become smaller, younger fish. And this is where the problem starts: the population decrease even more dramatically if the fish are unable to reproduce, unbalancing the ecosystem and making it impossible for the fisherman to earn a profit.

This is already happening. For example, FAO has warned that high-consumption species such as hake and sole are overexploited in the middle and north of the Adriatic Sea. So there's no time to lose.

A good solution to putting an end to this vicious cycle of overfishing is to reduce the death of young fish by protecting areas where fish breed and spawn, called “essential fish habitats”. To this end, Oceana has joined MANTIS, a project with seven other partners (CNR, Conisma, OGS, WWF, IOF, Nisea and DFA) that investigates how to improve the sustainability of fisheries in the central Mediterranean through a network of managed marine areas.

The consortium will study different network options and assess the magnitude of the overflow effect, that is, how many of the fish that grow safely inside the protected areas then overflow into other areas where fishing them is legal. It will also collect good practices that can be implemented elsewhere.

One of the practical cases in which the initiative will focus will be the middle and north of the Adriatic, as well as the Strait of Sicily. Between them, these areas are where the largest fleet in the central Mediterranean is concentrated.

The Strait of Sicily is a site with high biodiversity, a place where important commercial fish stock breed and spawn. Last year, coastal countries managed to agree on a multi-year plan that includes three areas closed to bottom trawling to preserve essential habitats for deep-water rose shrimp and hake. The measure, which Oceana has long advocated for, is based on solid scientific recommendations.

Thanks to MANTIS, researchers will now study how to extend protection to other fish stocks, like mullet, that suffer from overfishing, and create a brighter future for fish and fishermen.

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