A number of governments wish to authorise trawling in protected areas, the catching and sale of “baby fish”, the use of prohibited gear and the over-exploitation of fishing resources.
The EU Ministers of Fishing have again blocked debate on the proposal for Fishing Regulation for the Mediterranean, proposed by the European Commission, which attempts to put an end to the constant irregularities which are common experience in this sea and which will be debated on June 19th and 20th, in Luxembourg.
Despite the fact that the proposal attempts to bring together different points of view and to clearly define some minimum fishing management measures, the majority of Mediterranean countries have been blocking it, with the aim of bringing down the legislation that is currently in force and permitting prohibited fishing practices.
“If the fishing ministers finally stick to their guns, the Mediterranean might become a lawless sea where all the advances in fishing would be abandoned and those who have carried out illegal fishing activities would be rewarded”, says Xavier Pastor, Director of Oceana in Europe.
The Commission’s proposal aims to protect the most vulnerable ecosystems in this sea but the Mediterranean Ministers of Fishing wish to modify this point with the intention of opening up areas to trawling which have hitherto been prohibited. Thus the beds of marine phanerogamae, marine plants that form dense seagrasses and which are of vital importance for fishing production, the maintenance of beaches and the generation of oxygen, might be destroyed with total impunity. Fifty per cent of these seabeds have already disappeared in the Mediterranean mainly because of illegal fishing.
Oceana is asking the European Union not only to maintain the protection of these seabeds but to extend the protected areas to other underwater ecosystems of great ecological value but which are also highly prized for fishing such as the corals, the maërl (communities of red calcareous seaweed), the kelp forests and the deepwater coral reefs, among others.
According to the Oceana marine conservation organisation, trawling should be prohibited in all these ecosystems and the political and technical resources should be made available to make sure
that this prohibition is obeyed.
The Spanish government recently approved a bill which protects the marine phanerogamae meadows, the coral beds and the maërl in Mediterranean waters, a decision which Oceana received very favourably, but the continual irregularities of trawlers have led to many of these areas of seabed continuing to be destroyed.
“The connivance of Mediterranean governments with illegal fishing is unacceptable. Spain looks the other way when trawlers are fishing in the prohibited and protected areas; France and Italy not only do not act against fishing boats with illegal gears but sometimes they subsidise them with the money of European taxpayers; in Greece fishing takes place in protected areas and, in some places, they continue to use dynamite for fishing”, says Ricardo Aguilar, Research and Proejcts Director for Oceana in Europe.
Another measure which is promoted by the Mediterranean governments and which particularly concerns Oceana, is the legalisation of “baby fish”, reducing the minimum permitted size for marketing of different species among them the hake and the swordfish.
The catching and sale of immature fish is an illegal practice that is very extensive in all Mediterranean countries. In the case of the swordfish alone, it is calculated that 80% of the specimens caught in the Mediterranean are smaller than the permitted size. Other species which are frequently marketed in this way are the hake, the goatfish and the anchovy, which are also caught above all by the trawlers, the purse-seiners and the longliners which do not obey the current law.
According to Xavier Pastor: “It is dispiriting that many of the members of the European Parliament and Ministers who are to blame for the collapse of the anchovy in the Cantabrian sea are those who have been and are still blocking and attempting to relax the fishing legislation in the Mediterranean”.
At this moment, the Oceana Ranger catamaran is documenting the illegal operations of fishing driftnetters in the Mediterranean. Oceana is also documenting the seabeds which might disappear if the EU Council of Fishing Ministers does not decide to end the illegal trawling on marine phanerogamae meadows.