Driftnet fishing for large pelagic species is banned due to high by-catch rates of endangered species.
Today, the European Commission announced its proposal to ban all types of driftnets from operating in European waters. The measure is aimed at eliminating alleged loopholes that allow illegal fishing with driftnets to continue. However, according to Oceana, the marine conservation organisation that has been working to end the use of this unsustainable fishing gear for the last ten years, the approach of the Commission is mistaken, despite its sound intentions.
Xavier Pastor, executive director for Oceana in Europe has stated: “Illegal driftnets have plagued the Mediterranean Sea for the last 20 years, partly due to legal loopholes that nowadays have been mostly eliminated. Today, few such vessels remain in operation and ending this illegal and unsustainable practice once and for all is instead a matter of control and enforcement.”
Oceana is concerned that the measures proposed by the European Commission could penalise thousands of sustainable artisanal fishing boats and open once again the potential for massive subsidies fraud rather than targeting the few vessels that have continued illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing activities and that should have been officially blacklisted years ago.
Maria Jose Cornax, fisheries campaign manager for Oceana in Europe: “The single most important step that could be taken against illegal driftnetting is to call the activity by its real name: IUU fishing. The same boats and same operators have been illegally fishing for decades. The time for ambiguous measures is over – now it’s time to take action by blacklisting infractors”.
Furthermore, the proposal does not address the problem of illegal driftnetting for highly migratory species such as swordfish and tuna, which has been prohibited in Mediterranean waters since 2003 by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), yet is still permitted in the Atlantic Ocean.
Oceana believes that a real political commitment by the EU to the fight against illegal driftnetting should be demonstrated through the following actions:
- European vessels using illegal driftnets for the capture of highly migratory species should be blacklisted as IUU fishing vessels and their operators sanctioned accordingly.
- The EU should lead the adoption of a full ban on driftnets for the capture of highly migratory species in all tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs), in waters such as the Atlantic Ocean.
- The EU should adopt a coherent legal framework, banning the use of all gillnets (bottom gillnets and driftnets) for the capture of highly migratory species.
Learn more: 20 years of history in the driftnet ban
Driftnets are a type of fishing gear used to target various pelagic species. During the 1980s and the early 1990s, this type of net became popular because it is effective and easy to use. Driftnets were highly damaging to the marine environment, because they resulted in the by-catch of thousands of cetaceans and other endangered species.
After the EU prohibited these nets in 2002, some countries, such as France and Italy, continued using them. Italy has been the last country in Europe still using this illegal gear, which has been often camouflaged under the legal name of “ferrettara”. Other Mediterranean countries such as Morocco and Turkey also harboured fleets using this gear, but have since phased them out.
Learn more: Driftnets
Video and photos for media use available upon request