Driftnets, a fishing gear that can reach dozens of kilometres in length, were prohibited in the European Union in 2002 because they constitute a threat to the conservation of cetaceans, sea turtles and sharks. Oceana has reported that Italy and France continue using this illegal fishing gear to capture bluefin tuna and swordfish, years after the ban entered into force.
Up to last year, the French fleet had taken advantage of legal loopholes to continue carrying out their activities. In 2007, however, these loopholes were eliminated when the EU approved a legal definition of a “driftnet”. Despite this, in support of their fleet, the French government has taken various legal measures to attempt to perpetuate the use of this illegal gear. The European Court of Justice recently ruled that the French driftnet fleet should not have a temporary exemption from the ban as requested by their Government. As such, the French government cannot offer the driftnet fleet its protection in 2008. Any fishing vessel using this gear to catch bluefin tuna must be sanctioned by French authorities.
According to Xavier Pastor, the Executive Director of Oceana Europe: “This decision is a very important step to eliminate driftnets from the Mediterranean. The ruling also mentions the fact that these nets have been banned for the capture of threatened species since 2002, and not only since the 2007 EU agreement on a driftnet definition, as the French government has always claimed. This corroborates Oceana’s long-held stance: French driftnets have been illegal since the ban entered into force, although the French government has protected them with decrees and special fishing permits”.
This decision establishes some encouraging precedents concerning the resolution of other processes, such as the possibility that France will be denied their request to obtain a permanent repeal of the ban, which would lead to the legal return of the nets known as “walls of death”. It also increases the possibilities that France will finally be sanctioned for not complying with the ban on the use of driftnets since 2002.
Oceana 2008 Campaign against the use of driftnets in the Mediterranean
Oceana will soon present the results of the 2007 campaign in a report that proves there is no justifiable cause to exempt the French fleet from the ban on driftnets.
At the same time, the international organisation that works to protect the world’s oceans will continue its observations this year both in ports and on the high seas in order to report the use of this illegal fishing gear by the French and/or Italian fleets.
The 2006 campaign results are included in the report, “Thonaille: the use of drift nets by the French fleet in the Mediterranean”.