Illegal driftnet fishing returns to Morocco

18 Jun 2014
Small-scale vessels are illegally catching swordfish in the Gibraltar Strait using driftnets. Photo: Oceana Europe

Small-scale vessels are illegally catching swordfish in the Gibraltar Strait using driftnets. Photo: Oceana Europe

Marine conservation organisation, Oceana, has revealed that illegal driftnet fishing has returned to Tangiers, Morocco, despite it being phased out in 2010.

Evidence gathered by Oceana over the past few days shows small-scale vessels acting in conjunction with larger ones to capture swordfish in the Gibraltar Strait using driftnets. The Spanish fishing industry has already called on Spanish and EU leadership for action against the illegally-captured fish, which is imported to Spain and re-exported to the Italian market, sinking prices of locally and legally fished swordfish.

“Driftnet fishing has been banned since 1992 by United Nations General Assembly, and since 2003 by ICCAT. In 2010, Morocco still used this gear but strong international pressure led to a phase-out one year later,” said Xavier Pastor, executive director, Oceana Europe. “It is now clear that vessels have resumed illegal fishing right in front of Moroccan authorities. We don’t need more words against the use of driftnets, we need real action from authorities at all levels to stop illegal drift-netting now.”

According to Oceana information, first sale prices of swordfish in Morocco stand at €5/kg, while in Italy, it could cost more than €15/kg, making this illegal business profitable for intermediaries. Undersized swordfish is also sold locally in Tangiers.

“Both for traditional and cultural reasons, Italy is one of the main EU countries fishing and importing swordfish. Oceana is calling on relevant administrations to close the EU border to these illegally captured fish, and take appropriate action against Morocco to stop this unsustainable fishing practice. Inspection services on land should seize all fish showing evidence of being captured with this illegal fishing gear,” added Ilaria Vielmini, marine scientist, Oceana.

Driftnets, although banned by ICCAT in the Mediterranean Sea since 2003, are still allowed for ICCAT Contracting Parties in the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, Ocean is calling for ICCAT to adopt a full and unconditional driftnet ban for the capture of highly migratory species.

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