NGO: Illegal fishing potentially rife in the Mediterranean

Published on
July 16, 2019

Many potential cases of illegal, unreported, and  poorly regulated fishing in the waters of the Mediterranean are to be put before the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) when it meets this week in Tirana, Albania.

Based on the Global Fishing Watch detection algorithm and examined data from throughout 2018, ocean conservation organization Oceana identified more than 28,000 hours of apparent fishing inside protected areas of the Mediterranean Sea, which it is calling “the world’s most overfished sea.” 

The most concerning case relates to more than 14,000 hours of apparent fishing by 56 bottom trawling vessels in three fisheries restricted areas (FRAs) in the Strait of Sicily. Oceana explained that since 2017, trawling has been prohibited in these areas which serve as nursery grounds for young hake – “the most overfished species in the Mediterranean” – and deep-water rose shrimp.    

“Less than 1 percent of the Mediterranean Sea is protected by fisheries restricted areas, roughly the size of Sicily – yet vessels from some Mediterranean states are apparently involved in illegal fishing in these areas. Data shows that with better enforcement in place, for example in the Adriatic Sea fisheries restricted area, the protection of these ecological zones helps to rebuild overexploited fish populations,” said Nicolas Fournier, policy manager at Oceana in Europe.  

Oceana’s study is a follow-up to an investigation that it submitted to the GFCM last year. 

Possible unauthorized fishing operations were also observed in the waters of several Mediterranean countries, including Libya (4,400 hours), Tunisia (1,900 hours), Syria (80 hours), Albania (780 hours), Montenegro (1,800 hours), and Egypt (390 hours), but Oceana said that it was unable to verify whether these activities were legal or not, “due to the lack of transparency on access agreements between countries, which would otherwise provide information on who is permitted to be fishing and where.”

It is therefore calling on GFCM members to improve transparency, including of fishing access agreements, to strengthen requirements to make information on vessel registries public, as well as to enhance monitoring and sanctioning systems, particularly FRAs. 

Image: This is a map of cumulative fishing effort (number of fishing hours per square kilometre) for fishing vessels operating in two of the Strait of Sicily FRAs (East of Adventure Bank FRA and West of Gela Basin FRA) from January 2018 to December 2018. 

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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