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EU tackles illegal driftnets

May 14, 2014

The European Commission has called for a total ban on driftnet fishing in EU waters from 2015 to better enforce protection for dolphins, swordfish and tuna. It says some boats are still exploiting 2002 loopholes.

Image: picture alliance/WILDLIFE

The European Union's executive on Wednesday proposed that the EU's 28 member states prohibit any use of driftnets and even the keeping of short driftnets on boats from January 1 next year.

A US-based organization which often lobbies on environmental issues, the Pew Charitable Trusts, welcomed the proposal, saying it also showed the EU's "willingness to crack down on illegal fishing of bluefin tuna."

Other groups say Europe itself is to blame for overfishing because of its high demand for edible fish.

Driftnets, often vast lengths of near-invisible nylon netting floating near the sea surface, have been banned by the EU since 2002 for migratory fisheries.

But, some boats had flouted the rules, the European Commission said Wednesday, leading to unintended by-catches and the deaths of thousands of marine animals, included protected sea birds, dolphins and sharks.

Illegal landings continue

Illegal landings of edible fish using the method had continued, the commission said on Wednesday.

"The small-scale nature of the fishing vessels involved and the fact that they do not operate together in the same areas has made it easier to escape monitoring, control and proper enforcement," the commission said.

"The rules have not been fully respected."

The Brussels-based executive said its recommended total prohibition was based on two scientific studies and a public consultation process in 2013.

Its proposal now goes to the EU's 28 member nations.

Whole habitats destroyed

"Fishing with driftnets destroys marine habitats, endangers wildlife and threatens sustainable fisheries," said EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki.

"I am convinced that the only way to eradicate this once and for all is to have clear rules which leave no room for interpretation," Damanaki said.

"This in the end will also save the livelihood of those fishermen who have applied the rules over the past years."

In recent years there has been mounting concern within the EU over illegal and commercial fishing off its maritime borders, which has depleted species in the Atlantic Ocean and in Mediterranean waters.

ipj/mz (AP, AFP)