Often referred to as ‘curtains of death’, illegal driftnets pose a major threat to dolphins, whales, porpoises, turtles, sharks and fish. The use of large scale driftnets has been banned by the United Nations for over 20 years, yet a few hundred vessels from Morocco, Italy, Turkey, Algeria and Tunisia continue to use them, entangling cetaceans, killing turtles and sharks, while overfishing tuna and swordfish.
While numerous regulations have been introduced by the European Union and individual countries, the illegal use of driftnets continues to plague the Mediterranean Sea. Since 2013 The Black Fish has played an active role in ending the use of the nets by monitoring fishing ports and coastal areas for the use of the illegal fishing gear. Our investigations have uncovered the vessels using them and the inaction of corrupt officials that continues to drive the criminal fishing effort.
Thousands of whales, dolphins and porpoises die in illegal driftnets annually. For cetaceans, who need to surface in order to breath oxygen, entanglement in the nets causes them to die from slow deaths, suffocating often only a few meters from the surface of the water. Other animals, such as seals, sea lions and birds are increasingly impacted by fishing gear, especially from longlines and driftnets.
Due to the driftnets being non-selective they are responsible for high volumes of bycatch. While fishers might look to target swordfish or tuna, instead they catch large numbers of cetaceans, sharks and turtles as the animals are unable to escape the large drifting obstruction that driftnets create.
Large driftnets become unmanageable once the weather turns bad and in areas where their use is widespread, thousands of discarded nets are found on the ocean floor. Known as ‘ghostnets’, they continue to fish and entangle wildlife until the nets disintegrate.
The continued illegal use of driftnets, despite international laws banning the practice, seriously undermines legislative efforts to regulate fisheries on the high seas. The driftnet ban as initiated by the United Nations in 1992 is a unique piece of legislation and continued non-compliance threatens its effectiveness and that of international conservation laws.
Species under threat from illegal driftnets
What we are doing about it
The Black Fish is working, through partnerships with local authorities, enforcement agencies and other conservation organisations, to track illegal driftnet fishing. Initiating field investigations run by civilian observers, better known as Citizen Inspectors, The Black Fish monitors fishing ports and areas of sea areas from land, air and sea. Obtaining the necessary evidence, we assist in prosecuting those involved in the illegal fishing.
With growing awareness and support The Black Fish realises structural surveillance, bringing better protection to affected areas while strengthening local people and conservation authorities in their efforts to tackle the illegal driftnets.
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