Oceana asks the Italian Fisheries Minister to finally make the european ban on driftnets effective

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Oceana will present to the EU and to the Italian authorities a report of compiled facts and photographs clearly illustrating the use of illegal driftnets by the Italian fleet.


July 14, 2006
Madrid
Contact:
Marta Madina ( mmadina@oceana.org )




The Director of Oceana in Europe, Xavier Pastor, has written a letter to the Italian Government’s Fisheries Minister, Mr. Paolo de Castro, in which he describes the preliminary results of the report that Oceana is preparing dealing with the Italian fleet’s use of illegal driftnets. This report, which will be sent to the European Union institutions and to the Italian authorities, is the result of the two month expedition the Oceana Ranger catamaran carried out in the Western Mediterranean, and of the discoveries made by a group of Oceana investigators during their travel on land to Italian ports.

“Through this letter, we ask Minister de Castro that for once and for all, without any more tricks nor legal holes, he makes the Italian fleet comply with the regulations which have been required since the 1st of January, 2002 of all European countries”, -stated Xavier Pastor, the oceanographer who has been at the head of these investigations. “There is no need for the new Italian government to inherit the irregularities that surrounded their predecessors, but in order to avoid them they should act immediately.

In the letter, Oceana describes how the Ranger expedition has sailed 1,500 miles through the waters of the Ligurian Sea, the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Sardinian coast, while the land crew has covered 2,000 kilometres in Campaia, Calabria and Sicily.

“The result of these investigations is devastating in terms of the Italian driftnet fleet’s failure to comply with national and international laws" -explains the oceanographer Xavier Pastor in the message addressed to the minister. "Our crew has been able to confirm, both on the high seas and in ports, that vessels are carrying and using driftnets banned by the European Union, in lengths that exceed by four to eight times those generously authorized by the Italian government’s confusing legislation".

“We can attest to the use of banned mesh sizes and have intercepted boats fishing at distances from the coast that have not been authorised by any kind of law or decree. We have witnessed the capture of species like swordfish or albacore tuna with driftnets that are totally banned. We have also witnessed how these catches are unloaded in ports without any type of control from the authorities, and how after being loaded into trucks they are 'laundered' through frankly irregular supply chains”, specified Xavier Pastor in the letter.

Pastor affirms that all of these activities have been meticulously recorded, filmed, and photographed by the Oceana team. Those that took place on the high seas were reported immediately to the Italian Coast Guard by satellite messages containing data and photos of the alleged offenders.

As soon as the Oceana Ranger completes its expedition, the Italian and European authorities will be provided with the data and evidence that has been gathered by this marine conservation organization, which will affect at least 46 alleged illegal driftnetters. According to Oceana, many of these vessels do not even carry the mandatory identification. More than 75% of the boats identified have joined this type of illegal fishing after the EU had already put into effect the regulation that bans this kind of fishing. Of which, only 5 vessels (less than 15%) are registered as driftnetters on the official list of vessels that the Italian government submitted to the European Union. The rest are registered as ‘small scale’ fishing boats, unspecified gill-netters, trawlers or seiners.

The total of subsidies for replacing driftnets received by the vessels identified by Oceana come to 418,000 euros, with an average of 34,896 euros per vessel. These vessels include some of these that received the largest subsidies of up to 60,333 euros. According to Oceana “This deception of the taxpayers is scandalous and unacceptable".

In addition to the vessels identified by Oceana, many other boats have been intercepted by the Italian Coastguard, an operation which the conservation organization classifies as "commendable", a figure that has increased in the last few weeks. According to Pastor,”This simply gives an idea of the vast scale of this problem".

Oceana believes that the new Italian government cannot permit this breach of European fishing regulations to continue, and allow itself to become tainted by the suspicions of irregularities that surrounded the previous government on this issue.

In the letter, the director of Oceana asks Minister de Castro to immediately revoke the decree published this past 9th of June that favors the breach of the European regulations and suggests that a series of measures be adopted in order to put an end to the administrative chaos that has been carefully orchestrated for years to violate this law.

  • Italian legislation should unequivocally reflect European Union laws which not only ban the use of driftnets but also prohibit them from being kept on board fishing vessels, whether out at sea or in port.
  • Confiscated nets should be destroyed, and not handed back “in trust” to the very same offenders, who obviously use them again. 
  • Vessels should be banned from carrying more than one type of fishing gear on board to prevent them from getting round inspections by arguing that although they are carrying driftnets, the banned fish was caught with the few hooks that they also happen to have on board as an alibi.
  • There is a need for inspectors to be on duty in all Italian ports to prevent the unloading of banned species directly into refrigerated trucks which rapidly leave the port to sell the fish through irregular supply chains.
  • Failure to comply with legislation should entail the definitive loss of fishing licences.