Some 15,000 cetaceans could die every year through the use of this fishing gear.
Despite the ban on this gear, around 500 boats, of which more than half belong to the European Union, are still using driftnets in the Mediterranean and adjacent seas.
Traditionally, fisheries management in the Mediterranean has been administered inequitably and without effective controls. The state of many stocks is unknown, the vessel census is not properly updated and on many occasions not even, the coastal countries know what their boats are catching or what gear they are using.
In 1998, the European Union agreed to ban the use of driftnets in its waters and by its fleets, which should have gone into force in 2002. At the same time, in order to implement this legislation it was agreed to provide economic aid of several hundred million euros to help bring about the conversion of the affected sector. Regrettably, much of this money has been used for the development and use of new driftnets.
Countries such as France and Italy have tried to ignore the ban on the use of driftnets by changing the name of the fishing gear or making minor alterations to the nets. Driftnets are thus currently given names such as “thonaille” or “ferratara” in an attempt to disguise their true nature.
The European Commission has, on several occasions, recognised that the Mediterranean countries are not doing enough to put a stop to the illegal use of driftnets.
The three main driftnet fleets belong to Italy, France and Morocco, although it is also known that there are around 60-100 driftnetters in Turkey. Different organisations have also suggested that Algeria, Albania, Greece, Monaco and Rumania may also be using these nets.
Recently, the European Parliament has tried to definitively curb the continued violation of European legislation by certain fishermen, but the Mediterranean countries have been reluctant to act and have put obstacles in the way of the approval of new regulations that might remove their fleets from this illegal situation.
In order to corroborate in situ the level of non-compliance, the size and characteristics of the nets and their impact on the marine ecosystem, the Ranger catamaran from the organisation for the defence of the seas, Oceana, is currently sailing in the Tyrrhenian Sea (Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily and the continental Italian coast).
The driftnets used in the Mediterranean can extend for more than 15 kilometres and are dedicated to catching swordfish and tuna, although the number of accidental catches can exceed 80%
It is estimated that these fleets not only catch more than 15,000 cetaceans by accident each year (dolphins, sperm whales, whales, pilot whales, etc.), but also more than 100,000 sharks and thousands of other animals, including the much-endangered sea turtle.