Illegal trawling: this is how the Mediterranean is plundered with the passive complicity of national governments and the EU

THE governments and theEU they do not seriously defend the seabed of the Mediterranean from illegal fishing. To report it is the association of MedSea Alliance NGO which today publishes important data and studies, obtained exclusively from ilfattoquotidiano.itincluding the first Atlas on infringements in areas closed to the train. Controls not transparent or even absent allow the plundering of the most over-exploited sea in the world, as well as one of the richest in biodiversity: 75% of fish stocks are overfished and the variety of species per area exceeds by about 10 times the average world.

With 5884 fishing boats (FAO 2020 report), trawling accounts for 39% of the entire fisheries sector’s revenue in Mediterranean. The Italian fleet is the largest with 2024 boats. According to NGO Oceana (member of MedSea Alliance), in 2019 the duration of the train of boats Italian on vulnerable ecosystems it was more than three times higher than all other countries. “Scraping the seabed with its nets, the trawl fishing mowing crucial habitats and crushing CO2-storing marine sediments, thus contributing to heating global – explains Nicolas FournierDirector of Habitat Protection Campaigns at Oceana – Also kills a record number of endangered species, often thrown back dead or left to die at sea, particularly turtles marine, sharks and rays “. For this reason the trawl is regulated in the Mediterranean by a complex mosaic of rules nationalEU and international.

To the general prohibition below 1000 meters of depth and within 3 nautical miles (5.6 km) from the coast are added the closures in certain periods. Specific categories of areas enjoy a protection more or less high. That maxim applies to most of the Areas restricted to fishing (Fisheries Restricted Area – FRA) established by the General Fisheries Commission in the Mediterranean which brings together EU and non-EU countries. Instead, it goes from prohibition to the simple limitation in the so-called Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), created by individual states to achieve the objectives of protection environmental provided for by multilateral agreements (in particular the International Convention on Biodiversity). The restricted areas envisaged by the 2006 EU Mediterranean Regulation, on the other hand, remained mostly a dead letter. “The regulatory framework fully protects only 0.2% of the Mediterranean, too little,” comments Fournier.

Little transparency on infringements and sanctions – The interactive Atlas, launched by Med Sea Alliancegroups the infringements found in most of the 350 analyzed (178 in Italy), dividing them into four categories: BETWEENthe AMP (reserves or parks), national restrictions, such as Biological Protection Areas (ZTB) in Italy, and the Natura 2000 sites, introduced by the European Habitat Directive.

View the Atlas

The map displays not only the violations reported by local authorities or the media (between 2018 and 2021), but also those that, although not yet ascertaincan be assumed on the basis of the AIS (automatic identification system) tracks of the vessels, analyzed on the platform Global Fishing Watch (between 2020 and 2021). The AIS satellite communication system, introduced by the International Maritime Organization to avoid collisions and mandatory in the EU on all fishing boats of more than 15 meters, it provides the type, position, direction and speed of boats. The algorithmic combination of these parameters allows us to deduce with high probability if there has been fishing activity in a specific area.

For theItaly there are 85 ascertained infringements e sanctionedhalf of the 170 registered for all coastal towns. The latter, in addition to having fewer closed areas, have refused to to communicate in full theirs official statistics (the Atlas reports only the few published in the media), proving less transparent than our. The total of alleged infringements based on AIS positioning, on the other hand, concern 35 protected areas and 305 fishing vessels, for a total 9,518 days.

However, it must be said that the Coast Guard Italian only aggregates data on infringements for BETWEEN and the AMP (respectively 80 and 5 in the Atlas), but not the ZTB and Natura 2000 sites. For these two categories, the Atlas therefore shows only presumptions of wrongdoingdetected for Italy in 14 areas by 114 fishing boats. Global Fishing Watch has provided us with the AIS geo-positioning of about ten boats suspects with tricolor flag. Although EU legislation authorizes AIS for cross-checks, Italian legislation does not allow it as a test tool. asked the Coast Guard to confirm whether or not the alleged offenses of the tricolor boats indicated in the Atlas, through the satellite control system Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), considered officially probative. No response came.

Presumed fishing in the ZTB of the Tremiti Islands in Puglia – Source Global Fishing Watch

Presumed fishing in one of the Natura 2000 sites in Puglia – Source Global Fishing Watch

A study using AIS, carried out by the University of Ancona on behalf of the CNR and published in 2019, revealed that 217 vessels trailed on two thirds of the surface overall of 11 of the 12 ZTB analyzed (less than half of the existing 26). They do not turn out investigations ongoing on these cases. “All reports are subject to verification,” replied the General Command of the Coast Guardhowever, specifying that “at national level, there is no correlation between the reports received, the checks carried out and any sanctions imposed “. In fact, there is no way to ascertain whether the authorities have intervened in certain cases or not circumstances. “I report regularly to the port authorities in Tuscany (one of the regions with the highest number of inspections) cases of trawling within the disallowed limit of 1.5 miles from the coast, at that close range are ruined important habitats and take away amberjack, sea bream, white breams, looksthat is the species on which small artisanal fishing lives ”, he says Paul Children, Tuscan fisherman founder of the non-profit organization The house of fish, champion of the sea. “Often – he continues – the boats I caught red-handed operate at night when the patrol boats they do not go out, moreover by illegally turning off the AIS so as not to be intercepted ”. Tampering with the systems of location is one of the most recurrent types of offenses found in Italian waters which in 2021 totaled 1739, according to the latest joint report of the Coast Guard and the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Paolo Fanciulli’s notebook with the coordinates of the offenses not sanctioned

Gaps in the regulatory framework – “Accomplice of the fraudulent fishing boats is the EU itself,” he says Domitila Sennihead of the NGO Med React (also a member of the MedSea Alliance), according to which “the European Commission continues to tolerate the lack of protection at national level of the most vulnerable marine habitats, namely her phanerogams marine, the coralligens, the beds of maërl and the prairies of posidonia included in Natura 2000 sites, important nurseries for marine fauna. “The 2006 Mediterranean Regulation must be interpreted in the sense that the trawl must be excluded in the entire surface of the Natura 2000 sites used for protection of the habitats in question “, explains the former professor of international law at the University of Milan-Bicocca, Tullio Scovazzi. Med React pointed out, however, that national authorities apply the ban only in portions which contain the habitats themselves. “These continue to be suffocated and degraded by the sediments raised by the passage of the nets in the surrounding areas”, explains Senni. For example in the Natura 2000 site of the Sicilian Archipelago of Egadi (one of the 184 sites analyzed by Med React in Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Slovenia and Croatia) trawling is prohibited in the MPA of the same name, but only environment to the islands. Instead, it is allowed in the sea ​​space which separates the latter, although it is also part of the site.

Natura 2000 site Egadi Islands archipelago – Fonte Med React

AIS data processing of 2019 – Source: Oceana

The same Regulation prescribes to close further areas, called Protected Fishing Areas, to extend the protection of habitat essential beyond Natura 2000 sites. As disclosed by Oceana in 2020, to fulfill this obligation, Italy recycled some ZTBs and, together with other countries, even dusted off some MPAs. These, in addition to still being too small, are partially devoid of a trawl ban that the European Parliament, last May, asked to be fully extended. “We have dealt with the limited progress of the Member states proposing new multi-year management plans in the western Mediterranean and the Adriatic and collaborating with the General Fisheries Commission in the Mediterranean for the establishment of new FRAs “, explains the spokesperson of the executive of Brussels.

The measures cited meet however resistors policies. “Italy has evaded the Plan for Western Mediterranean using the exemption that exempts governments from to prohibit periodically the train along the whole coast (for three consecutive months within 6 miles at a depth not exceeding 100 meters) if they permanently close new areas. Our country has limited itself to re-proposing those same ZTBs in Tyrrhenian where the ban was already in force (in some cases since the 1990s) “, explains Domitilla Senni, head of MedReAct. “Furthermore, while the establishment of some FRAs, such as that of the Fossa di Pomo in the Adriatic, they can give results extraordinary for the repopulation of the sea, it is difficult to replicate these successful examples in other areas of the Mediterranean“.

L’industry fears restrictions too penalizing. “We believe there is a need for a balance between sustainability economicsocial and environmental “, he declares Cristian MarettiPresident of LegaCoop Agroalimentare, affiliated with the Alliance of Italian Cooperatives in the fishing sector and with the European Alliance for trawling (EBFA), “But the ban on the train it would be a mistake that would cost Europe more imports from seas that are already exploited more than ours today ”. But NGOs are pushing hard. “We urge the European Commission to sanction countries that do not enforce the bans, ”says Fournier. Too bad that governments have no obligation to share investigations e sanctions in a centralized database a EU level that allows to ascertain any defaults national. Med Sea Alliance asked the EU and the GFCMwhich will hold its annual meeting from 7 to 11 November, to provide public information at least on the cases confirmed.

Article produced with the support of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network as part of the Mediterranean Media Initiative

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About Banner Leon

Videogames entered his life in the late '80s, at the time of the first meeting with Super Mario Bros, and even today they make it a permanent part, after almost 30 years. Pros and defects: he manages to finish Super Mario Bros in less than 5 minutes but he has never finished Final Fight with a credit ... he's still trying.

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