Greenpeace raises alarm on illegal driftnet use

Published on
April 16, 2021

Greenpeace is raising an alarm regarding the ongoing use of illegal driftnets in the northwest Indian Ocean, and warned that looming food insecurity and constrained economic growth in the region will result if the practice is left unchecked.

Greenpeace – which spoke to Reuters after a 14-day fact-finding mission in the northwest Indian Ocean – exposed rampant deployment of illegal fishing gear to catch tuna in the region,  including in Somalia – a country that has been grappling with incidents of piracy.

Somalia, alongside Yemen, was previously cited for allowing vessels to use large-scale driftnets in territorial waters despite the region’s coastal shelves being listed among ecologically vulnerable fishing grounds.

Global Fishing Watch previously singled out the two countries as an area with a marine coast where the “largest illegal fishing operation occurs in the world.”

Greenpeace said the illegal use of driftnets is decimating marine life and reducing the yellowfin tuna population. If left unchecked the illegal driftnets will, at the current rate, cause food insecurity in the region and impact the performance of local economies.

“Because of the issues of bycatch we’re concerned about all fish in the Indian Ocean,” Greenpeace said.

Greenpeace Head of Oceans in the United Kingdom Will McCallum said the U.N. ban of driftnets has been relatively pointless considering the lack of enforcement on the ban.

“What’s the point in a U.N. ban on driftnets when all the fishing vessels we saw are using driftnets?” McCallum said. “There is little to no enforcement in international waters ... We need a global ocean treaty ... To resolve this enormous governance gap.”

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) has limited the use of driftnets to 2.5 kilometers in length, with January 2022 being the tentative start-date for when the ban will take effect.

In late 2020, the IOTC asked its members and cooperating parties to submit, by the end of 2020, a list of flagged vessels operating in the high seas as the proposed total ban on the use of large-scale drift gillnets within the organization’s area of mandate inched close to implementation.

The U.N. General Assembly had previously adopted Resolution 46/215 calling for a global moratorium on large-scale high seas driftnet fishing, and expanded restrictions on the driftnets to include the exclusive economic zone of coastal states.

Global Fishing Watch in the recent past pointed a finger at Iran and Pakistan as the source of the fishing vessels that illegally deploy drifting gillnets to catch pelagic fish like tunas.  

Photo courtesy of Keni/Shutterstock

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