The collaboration of the international organization for the marine conservation with the Italian Coast Guard has made possible the arrest of dozens of illegal boats and the seizure of 300 km of nets in the last few weeks.
Along the last three weeks, the Oceana Ranger catamaran has sailed a thousand miles in the Thyrrenian sea, close to the south Italian and Sicilian coasts. The Ranger crew has been able to report the activity of dozens of fishing boats using driftnets which were banned by the European Union four years ago. These boats received over 200 million euros in subsidies in order to reconvert to other type of fishing but, after taking in those funds, they carried on using the illegal gear.
Every time the Ranger detects the presence of an illegal boat, its crew immediately warns the headquarters of the Italian Guardia Costiera, via satellite, the details corresponding to the name, registration number, location, estimated length of the net and distance from the coast. The warning goes along with photographic evidence. The images of the illegal boats while they fish reach the “Guardia Costiera” within minutes from the time the boats are identified by Oceana, generally when their nets are still in the water and, in some cases, while they are taking out species like swordfish or tuna, whose catch is strictly forbidden with any kind of driftnets.
Occasionally, the coastguards have arrived in time to stop the driftnetters right at the moment when they were carrying out the forbidden fishing. Other times they have waited for the fishing boats in their base harbour in order to intercept them upon arrival.
This collaboration between Oceana and the Guardia Costiera and the independent activity of the same has made possible that, in the last few weeks, dozens of boats have been arrested and nearly 300 kilometres of driftnets to be confiscated.
According to the oceanographer Xavier Pastor, director of the Oceana Ranger expedition, “The current collaboration between the Italian authorities and organizations like Oceana, Marevivo, Animalisti Italiani and other Italian organizations must put an end, once and for all, to the illegality that fleet is falling in. This year must be the last one for the Italian driftnetters to put in evidence their country in front of the European institutions and to make their government face the risk of severe sanctions by the European Commission due to a breach of the fishing regulation and to fraud in the use of communitarian fundings”.
In order to make this possible, the new Italian government must strengthen the actions of the Guardia Costiera and other inspection bodies and also take a series of legal measures to stop the current fraud and cheating.
According to Oceana, these measures only require a political will to put an end to this scandal and the determined activation of the “Guardia Costiera, the Guardia de Finanza” and other law enforcement institutions that the Ranger has seen in all the Italian harbours.
The driftnets were banned by the European Union, the United States and many other countries following the UN mandate. This resolution was taken after verifying that this type of fishing gear caught, at random, all types of species, over exploiting the stocks, and made too many accidental catch of marine mammals such as dolphins, sperm whales, whales and other protected species such as sea turtles. The European ban came in force at the beginning of 2002, after several years of a phase out transition period.
The Oceana Ranger catamaran will carry on along the next few weeks its expedition, with the purpose of reporting new breaches and presenting, at the end of the fishing season, a complete report of the same to the European Union and to the Italian Government.