Driftnets are banned because they take large quantities of unwanted catch, called bycatch, putting populations of migratory fish, sea turtles and cetaceans at risk. We investigate why it still occurs throughout the Mediterranean Sea. http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1328265913http://www.brightcove.com/channel.jsp?channel=717691041


Whales of the Mederranean Sea - Part 3     
    "Fishy Business" - The Illegal Driftnet Fishery

    13 minutes, 53 seconds   Adobe Flash

>> Watch a QUICKTIME Version of "Fishy Business - The Illegal Driftnet Fishery"

>> Part 1 - "Mediterranean - The Sea in the Middle of the Earth" -
>> Part 2 - "The Sperm Whales of Greece - Life in the Trenches" -
>> Part 4 - "Disappearing Dolphins" -

"Fishy Business - the Illegal Driftnet Fishery" is the third program of the documentary series "Whales of the Mediterranean Sea". The full script can be found at essayswriters.com.

Despite a world-wide ban by the United Nations in 1992 and by the European Union in 2002, the driftnet fishery continues illegally throughout the Mediterranean Sea. Driftnets are banned because they take large quantities of unwanted catch, called bycatch, putting populations of migratory fish, sea turtles and cetaceans at risk.

We interview Xavier Pastor of Oceana, a global marine conservation organization. He leads a team of scientists, photographers, and videographers who are systematically documenting the use of illegal driftnets throughout the Mediterranean. With over 500 driftnet vessels operating illegally in the region, researchers and conservation groups are concerned that marine species are being pushed to the edge. In this episode, we investigate the fishery and examine why it still occurs today.

Narrated by Genevieve Johnson - earthOCEAN

Banned by the United Nations in 1992.

Banned by the European Union in 2002.

Driftnets are still in use in the Mediterranean Sea.

Today we are onboard the Oceana Ranger in Sardinia, Italy, to search for and document illegal driftnetting in the Mediterranean Sea. Although entirely banned, driftnetting continues in various countries, killing large numbers of migratory species, including cetaceans.

A driftnet is a large floating wall of monofilament mesh deployed from a boat. The net hangs vertically from the surface to a depth of 30 meters. They can be up to 20 kilometers long, and drift freely for hours, or even days. Fishers using driftnets want to catch tuna and swordfish. However, driftnets catch everything that swims into them, fish, sea turtles, sharks and rays, dolphins and even whales.

Driftnets are banned because they take large quantities of unwanted catch, called bycatch. We talk with Amanda Nickson of the WWF Global Species Program in Rome.

Amanda Nickson - Deputy director, WWF Global Species Program. Rome, Italy.

"Bycatch refers to the situation that occurs when an animal that is not in the intended target of a fishing activity, gets caught in the gear of that fishing activity, on the end of a hook, or entangled in a line or something like that. Many animals are killed or injured each year as a result of bycatch in fisheries."

Researchers onboard the Oceana Ranger, are systematically documenting the use of illegal driftnets in the Mediterranean Sea. The Ranger is a 23 meter catamaran, crewed by a team of dedicated marine scientists, photographers, and videographers; and led by marine conservation veteran, Xavier Pastor.

Xavier Pastor - Executive Director, Oceana Europe.

"Since 2002, it is forbidden to use driftnets. The European legislation bans it for the European fleet, following the former moratorium that was made by the United Nations (in 1992). There is a general knowledge in the fisheries sector and in the governments, that the Italians, the French and the Moroccans are using driftnets. But actually there is very little documentation, very little proof or evidence. So we are out on the sea with the Ranger."

Oceana document the names and registration numbers of individual boats participating in this illegal fishery. They film and photograph the nets being deployed and hauled in, collecting data on the catch. From this, they publish reports and submit them to the European Commission, national governments and international media, to highlight that this fishery continues, despite numerous bans.

Xavier Pastor -

"It puts organizations like Oceana in the position of having to do a job that should be made by the government, which is documenting, making lists, filming, giving information to the international conventions. That is the reason why - the lack of enforcement by the government is the reason for this permanent problem."

Amanda Nickson -

"Well, driftnetting again, it's very unselective. So they are large nets and a lot can get caught in them, it's part of the reason they're popular as well, because a lot can get caught in them and they're relatively easy and cheap to operate. So from a political perspective there has to be substantial political will and enforcement in order to make a ban such as that work, and I guess what we are seeing at the moment is those necessary elements aren't in place yet."

Due to illegal driftnetting, as well as poorly managed fisheries practices, the populations of Mediterranean blue fin tuna and swordfish have dropped by an estimated 90%.

Xavier Pastor -

"In the case of the swordfish it's obvious that the population is declining. You can see it in the catches, you can see it in the size of the stock, in the size of every individual that is being caught. When you see in the market but also the footage of the driftnets, many of the swordfish that are being taken today have not even been able to reproduce."

According to Oceana, an estimated 85% of animals caught in driftnets are unwanted by-catch, thrown back into the sea, dying or dead. Among them are species such as the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle. This illegal and indiscriminate fishery also threatens Mediterranean cetaceans.

Amanda Nickson -

"Bycatch is a major global problem. For cetaceans we estimate at least 308 thousand cetaceans each year are killed in fishing operations, that's about 1,000 a day, or 1 every two minutes. So the problem is quite enormous."

According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN), this fishery kills thousands of dolphins every year in the Mediterranean Sea. Entanglements in driftnets are also the main cause of sperm whale decline.

The Tyrrhenian Sea is an area notorious for cetacean bycatch in illegal driftnets. Researcher, Barbara Mussi studies cetacean populations in Ischia, Italy. She often observes fishing boats deploying driftnets in the area. She told us about an incident where an entire sperm whale family was entangled in a driftnet.

Barbara Mussi - Director, Delphis MDC. Ischia, Italy.

"In 2004, five sperm whales were entangled in a driftnet. There were two adults, two calves and one juvenile. They were completely entangled with their tails in the nets, and a special group of coastguard divers, rescued all of them. They were half sinking, slowly sinking, since the operation lasted for two days. You know, everybody is speaking about the driftnetting problem, but when you see the image of the animal and the huge amount of net on their tails and on their bodies, it's something different, its important."

In the past three decades, 229 sperm whales stranded along the coasts of Spain, France and Italy as a result of being entangled in these nets. This is an astonishing number for an isolated population numbering in the hundreds.

Italian, French, Moroccan, Turkish, Tunisian and Algerian fishers, have a combined driftnet fleet of about 500 boats. Spain enforced the ban. Unfortunately instead of destroying their gear, it was sold to Moroccan fishers, allowing that fishery to expand.

Xavier Pastor -

"Many of the owners of the nets just sold the nets across the Alboran Sea to North Africa, to the Moroccan fleet. Another reason why this fleet is growing is because the result of this catch is being sold to Europe through Spain."

According to Oceana, only 2% of all the swordfish caught by the Moroccan fleet is consumed in Morocco. The remaining 98% is exported, 95% of which is allocated to Spanish companies, three quarters of which is re-exported to Italy.

Xavier Pastor -

"So the European Union is buying fish that is fished with gear that is forbidden by the European Union. So all this is complete madness."

Because of public demand for high priced swordfish and tuna, there is massive incentive for this illegal fishery to continue.

Xavier Pastor -

"Swordfish is very popular in Spain and Italy and people don't have a clue where the swordfish comes from. They go to the market they buy it, they don't know if the gear used is a forbidden net, a sustainable net. They don't know the state of the stocks, they just realize that the swordfish and tuna are smaller and smaller and more expensive everyday, but there is fish in the market so they buy them. They don't ask questions - at least in this part of the world."

With so much at stake, tensions are increasing on the high seas and the work of Oceana is gaining notice. In May 2007, while documenting illegal activities in the Pelagos Marine Sanctuary, a group of French driftnetters attacked the Oceana Ranger and her crew.

Xavier Pastor -

"We were surrounded by seven boats, with a number of very aggressive fishermen, that were threatening to go onboard the Ranger and take the film and the cameras, unless we gave them to them."

When helicopters arrived from the French navy to break up the confrontation, the driftnetters fled the area at high speed.

After hearing reports of driftnet boats in French ports, Chris and I visited St. Rafael in southern France. We walked the docks, photographing driftnet boats tied alongside a French coastguard vessel. The illegal nets piled on the ground in full view. We were left wondering why these boats are still allowed to operate?

Xavier Pastor -

"The reason some countries like France and Italy are still using them, (driftnets) is because they have found some loopholes in the ban. The Italians simply changed the name of the net from the spadara to the ferretarra, and with this they thought they could just go around the legislation. They say it's a coastal net, which is not true, they fish in international waters in one thousand meters depth, and the French have used a more sophisticated approach. They say that they use a floating anchor on the net, which limits its drifting, so it doesn't drift, it's not a driftnet and therefore, is not forbidden. Obviously that's a joke. First, even if they used an anchor, it is still drifting and has the same impact. But then we have been able to document that they don't even use these anchors, which are useless anyway."

In an attempt to solve the problem, and encourage driftnetters to change to other gears, the European Union and Italian Government subsidized the Italian fleet two hundred million Euros in recent years. However, most fishers bought more driftnets and kept fishing. It would seem the only way to stop this illegal fishery is to enforce the laws that are already in place. Xavier Pastor, hopes that the research and imagery collected by Oceana will make a difference, putting an end to an illegal and destructive fishery that operates largely out of sight, and out of mind.

Xavier Pastor -

"We are not going to stop until we get rid of the driftnets because it is a plague and it has been admitted by everybody, the United Nations, the national governments, everybody. There is no discussion what so ever, about the damage driftnets does and we have legislation now, we only need enforcement, so we have to push for the enforcement of those laws."

   Illustration - A boat and a driftnet. The net can be up to 30 meters deep and from 10-20 kilometers in length.

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