Earlier this month, Oceana in Europe and Italian journalist Sabrina Giannini gathered evidence of Italian fishermen using illegal drift gillnets in the swordfish fishery at the Port of Bagnara Calabra in southern Italy. Despite a 2002 ban by the European Union on this destructive fishing gear—and even with the Italian government providing high subsidies for other fishing techniques—Italy continues to use this illegal gear.
“The illegal use of driftnets has been plaguing Italy for over 30 years. This destructive gear catches highly migratory species, cetaceans, and sea turtles, and threatens traditional and more selective harpoon fisheries in Sicily and Calabria,” Oceana in Europe executive director Xavier Pastor said in a press release. “Oceana is concerned about this grave situation and about the lack of awareness from the Italian authorities, who consider this issue to be closed.”
Despite this evidence, the Italian Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policy Maurizio Martina claims that Italy has respected the 2002 ban rules, but the European Commission has actually kept Italy on its list of countries to be closely observed since 1995, which includes issuing official letters and a court case. During this time, Italy has gone from building loopholes to bypass regulation, such as by adopting the “ferrettara”—a driftnet with a smaller mesh size that can still catch highly migratory species—to attempting to conform to the ban on catching highly migratory species, like tuna and swordfish, by using any kind of driftnet.
Unfortunately, fishing vessel inspections have been inadequate, and an increase of Italian control over fisheries in the past few years has not been enough to eradicate the problem. In light of the appalling ongoing use of illegal driftnets, Oceana urges the European Commission to open a new infraction procedure.
“The EU Italian Presidency must clearly define this fishery as what it really is: illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU), and those who are practicing it should be included in the EU’s list of IUU vessels,” added Pastor. “The illegal use of driftnets is particularly worrying in a region like the Mediterranean, where 91 percent of fish stocks are overexploited, and several fish stocks, including that of swordfish, are declining.”
Italy was also recently caught illegally importing swordfish caught with driftnets in Morocco, which Oceana exposed, too.
Highly migratory species stocks—especially swordfish—are deeply affected by driftnet fishing. Oceana has called on Italian and international authorities to define a long-term management plan for swordfish in the Mediterranean Sea before it’s too late, and continues to issue petitions and campaign against the use of drift gillnets on a global scale. You can learn more here, and take a look below to check out evidence of the illegal drift gillnets on Italian vessels.