22nd May 2019

EU cash used for illegal fishing, report says

Fishermen are continuing to use large scale drift nets in the Mediterranean despite an EU ban on the practice, while an environmental group claims to have proof that the fishermen are spending EU anti-drift net funds on new drift nets, or simply to fill their own pockets.

In a report sent to EU fishery ministers ahead of the fisheries council on Monday, maritime protection group Oceana accuses the EU of wasting tens of millions of euros on nothing.

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The group has collected evidence that some of the fishermen take EU buy-out money to buy bigger and more damaging nets.

In 1998, following a decision to ban large scale drift nets, the EU directed fishery fund money to fishermen for the dismantling of their business or for replacing the forbidden nets with new ones.

Italy has reportedly spent €200 million euro, out of which 75 percent came from the EU, in converting its fishing fleet.

During two days only, Oceana's patrol boat photographed 37 boats using the forbidden nets on the coastline outside Sardinia.

"Some fishermen were using the same nets illegally; others used the same nets openly calling them something else. Others used new, but still as illegal, nets. All of the ships had received fund money to quit using drift nets", says Ricardo Aguilar spokesperson of Oceana.

Various other environmental groups have repeatedly accused the EU of not following up properly on how member states follow the drift net regulations.

"EU member states violating the ban should be prosecuted", Swiss-based WWF-International said last year after reports that drift nets were killing tens of thousands of dolphins, sharks, turtles and other vulnerable species around the Mediterranean Sea.

Fisheries Commissioner Borg, said in 2003 that "based on the inspectors’ observations and following contacts with the competent Italian authorities, the commission considered that Italy was not controlling and inspecting satisfactorily the community legislation as regards driftnets".

Ricardo Aguilar from Oceana, is hoping that Monday's council will result in a firm definition of drift net.

Should member states fail to submit to the regulations, Oceana is willing to appeal to the European courts, or to the UN.

In 1998, the EU forbad the use of large scale drift nets, complying with a UN moratorium on large-scale drift nets put in place in 1992.

Drift nets are used in a wide range of fisheries, usually deployed at or near the sea surface. Traditionally they were short, small-meshed nets but today drift nets can reach up to 60km in length.

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