Global NGO denounces Italian trawlers in protected zone east of Malta

NGO Oceana had flagged infractions a year ago, but claims they have not yet been dealt with

Global NGO Oceana has denounced more than 10,000 hours of fishing activity by 20 Italian flagged bottom trawling fishing vessels in the three “Fisheries Restricted Areas” in the Strait of Sicily
Global NGO Oceana has denounced more than 10,000 hours of fishing activity by 20 Italian flagged bottom trawling fishing vessels in the three “Fisheries Restricted Areas” in the Strait of Sicily

Global NGO Oceana has denounced more than 10,000 hours of fishing activity by 20 Italian flagged bottom trawling fishing vessels in the three “Fisheries Restricted Areas” in the Strait of Sicily, where trawling is not allowed to protect juvenile hake.

One of the FRAs where the presence of Italian trawlers was detected was a zone earmarked as “East of Malta Bank,” which is just outside Malta’s Fisheries management zone but partly located in Malta’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Oceana is a global non government organisation advocating science-based fishery management and restoring biodiversity in the world's oceans.

The FRAs were established under a management plan for fisheries in the Strait of Sicily by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean in 2016. The plan had to enter into force by October 2016.

The FRAs aims to protect the European hake and deep-water rose shrimp According to the plan, any bottom trawling activity is banned inside the FRAs.

Bottom trawling is not allowed in FRAs as they represent an essential habitat during the fish stock’s lifecycle, or include vulnerable eco-systems.

The three FRAs in the Straits of Sicily – namely the East of Adventure Bank, West of Gela Basin and East of Malta Bank – were established in the Strait of Sicily by a decision adopted at the 40th session of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean in 2016.

The report lists 20 bottom trawl vessels for which 
the Global Fishing Watch fishing detection algorithm suggested a combined total of more than 10,000
 fishing hours within the FRAs between December 2016 and December 2017.

In June 2017, Oceana notified the European Commission that it had detected fishing activity by Italian flagged bottom trawling fishing vessels operating in the three FRA. But the NGO claims that these infractions have not been dealt with, almost one year later.

Additionally, Oceana has uncovered intrusions of foreign vessels into the waters of seven Mediterranean countries including Libya.

Oceana was unable to determine whether this activity was legal or not as, unlike other regional fisheries bodies around the world, the GFCM does not publish information on bilateral fishing arrangements.

According to Oceana this lack of transparency makes it impossible to know if – for instance – three EU vessels that fished in Libyan waters (for more than 900 hours) and Tunisian waters (for more than 1,500 hours), were fishing legally or not.

The vessels observed in Libyan jurisdiction  include the Maltese registered ‘Stella de Mare 2’ which spent 341 fishing hours in these waters between January 2016 and January 2018.  The same boat also spent 390 fishing hours in Tunisian waters in the same period.

Oceana’s Executive Director Lasse Gustavsson denounced Mediterranean governments for turning a blind eye to potential cases of abuse in their own Mediterranean Sea.

“Information gathered by Oceana indicates that fishing vessels that can easily be identified are blatantly violating the law in fisheries-restricted areas. They’re doing nothing to uphold the law,” said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of Oceana in Europe.

“The Mediterranean is the most overfished sea in the world, with more than 90% of stocks overfished. By not taking action governments are jeopardising the future of Mediterranean fisheries and the future of the more than 300,000 fishermen and their families who depend on this sea for food and income,” added Gustavs.

Oceana referred to the commitment made by Mediterranean states in a meeting in Malta in March 2017. The Malta Declaration, also called the “MedFish4Ever” Declaration, committed amongst other key steps, to create a network of Essential Fish Habitats by 2018, develop a culture of compliance and eliminate illegal fishing.

In 2016 EU Fisheries chief commissioner Karmenu Vella had said that stocks "are on the verge of depletion. All in all, 93% of the fish stocks assessed are overexploited." On top of that, he said one in two fish caught in the Mediterranean are not even recorded with authorities — raising the specter of even worse depletion.

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