A few days ago, over 3 km of illegal driftnets were seized in Italy. It’s amazing, and disturbing that more than a decade after a driftnet ban was put in place in the EU – we are still seeing regular cases of infractions, particularly by the Italian fleet.
Driftnets do not discriminate. The enormous nets are often used to target swordfish and cause enormous amounts of bycatch and discards of turtles, sharks, whales and dolphins among many others. In fact, driftnets are responsible for the largest proportion of cetacean bycatch in the Mediterranean and it has been estimated that they caused the deaths of 100,000 cetaceans annually.
What’s worse is that the Italian fleet (and all those that used driftnets before the ban) was given enormous amounts of subsidies, funded by European taxpayers, to convert their vessels – which begs to question what they did with that money.
This is why the control and enforcement aspects of all regulations and legislation are so crucial. It serves no one to have strong laws on paper, if in action, they have no bite.
Currently, a loophole in the driftnet ban allows a type of driftnet called ferrettara, which cannot exceed 2500 m in length and must have a maximum mesh size of 10 cm. We are happy to see that the European Commission has opened a consultation process to look into small-scale driftnet fisheries seeking more knowledge about this kind of net with the aim of closing loopholes once and for all.
We put out a report a few years ago on driftnets in the Mediterranean and their impact on swordfish which you may be interested in taking a look at: Adrift! Swordfish and driftnets in the Mediterranean Sea.