Oceana: Step forward in eliminating illegal driftnetters Published: 29 June, 2007
A NEW EU Regulation, which introduces a driftnet definition into EU law has been welcomed by conservationists.
According to conservation group Oceana, The Regulations main effect should be to finally halt the use of illegal French driftnets, often called thonaille, which are used in the Mediterranean despite being banned since 2002.
Last year, on the initiative of Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg, the European Commission presented a proposal to introduce a full definition of a driftnet.
A number of driftnet fleets, including the French thonaillers have exploited the lack of a definition to flout the EU driftnet ban and continue using their illegal gear. This new definition should also help to avoid a repetition of the thonaille issue when the driftnet ban comes into effect in the Baltic in 2008, Oceana contends.
The crew of the research catamaran, the Oceana Ranger, has documented over the past two months the activities of a fleet of 67 vessels using the driftnets called thonaille. This work was complemented by Oceana observers on land, who identified vessels in port with driftnets on board and observed the landing and sale of illegal captures.
During the observation mission on the high seas, the Oceana Ranger was attacked by seven French driftnet vessels who deliberately entangled the propellers of the Ranger, forcing the crew to shut down the engines. The attack ended when two helicopters from the French Coastguard and Navy arrived on the scene.
Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana for Europe says: The approval of the Regulation is a sign of a commitment by the EU to eliminate driftnets from the fleet. The French Government, which continues to protect the thonaillers despite the highest French Court declaring them in contravention of EU law, now has no option but to put a stop to their activities.
The thonaille fishermen are seeking a derogation, not only from the driftnet ban, but also from the new rules on minimum landing size of bluefin tuna. They claim that French driftnet fishing in the Mediterranean is an artisanal and ancestral fishery.
Oceana says it has evidence that this is not an ancestral fishery and that 25% of the driftnetters observed entered into service after the driftnet ban came into force in 2002. It is also not an artisanal fishery, as the engine power and other characteristics of a number of these vessels allow them to operate more than 20 miles from the shore. Moreover, these vessels are not restricted to driftnetting; many of them are versatile enough to work with other gears such as gillnets or longlines, diminishing the argument that a derogation should be allowed for socioeconomic reasons. Finally, the driftnet owners themselves admit that the average size of the bluefin tuna caught is only 21 kg, well below the new minimum landing size, contradicting their claims that it is a sustainable fishery.
In another development this week, the Commission has decided to continue the infringement procedures against France. Xavier Pastor comments France is faced with the prospect of serious sanctions now that the Commission is taking taking legal action against the government for non compliance with the EU driftnet ban for over five years.