Mediterranean, protected areas only on paper

Trawling even where it is prohibited. Mapping the violations is the Atlas of the Med Sea Alliance. The Tremiti Islands are also part of the trawl fishermen’s network

Mediterranean, marine protected areas yes but in many cases only on paper. In these areas, where trawling is prohibited, fishing boats continue to enter undisturbed to carry on their business, including Italy: here, 14 protected areas are violated, including the Tremiti Islands which are ‘Ztb’, Zona of biological protection. To denounce a ‘ghost’ protection is the new Atlas of the Med Sea Alliance which, for the first time, maps the areas permanently closed to trawling in the Mediterranean and investigates the trawling activities in these areas.

The Atlas, published ahead of the annual session of the General Fisheries Commission in the Mediterranean (Tirana, 7-11 November), shows the alleged and confirmed violations of trawling in 350 areas where it is permanently prohibited, mapped by MedReAct and using data, algorithms and models developed by Global Fishing Watch to assess any violations. Result: in the period January 2020 – December 2021, the Atlas documents alleged trawling activities in 35 protected areas of the Mediterraneanby presumably 305 fishing vessels, for a total of 9,518 presumed fishing days.

Instead they are about 170 cases of confirmed infringements between January 2018 and December 2020 relating to Italy, Turkey, France, Algeria and Morocco. In Italy (the only country in Europe to have provided clear data) there are 85 offenses sanctioned between January 2018 and June 2021, of which 80 in the fishing restriction areas established by the CGPM and 5 in the Marine Protected Areas. As for the alleged infringements in 178 Italian areas closed to trawling, the Atlas analysis highlights possible illegal fishing activities in 14 protected areas by presumably 114 fishing vessels from 2020 to 2021.

Focus on the Tremiti islands. MedReAct has published a survey on the Biological Protection Area of ​​the Tremiti Islands which confirms the indications of the Atlas, namely that fishing boats enter undisturbed trawling in areas that should be closed. “Our investigation – explains Domitilla Senni, head of MedReAct – reveals how this area is protected only on paper also due to the absence of controls, as reported by small fishermen who suffer from illegal trawling raids. We ask the new government Italian to ensure that trawling bans are fully enforced to support the recovery of fish stocks and the protection of sensitive habitats “.

The analysis of alleged infringements conducted by Global Fishing Watch is based on data from the Automatic Identification System (Ais) used for safety at sea, crossed with the EU Fleet Register and other relevant data sets, to deduce the behavior of vessels potentially engaged in bottom trawling within prohibited areas. While the AIS is mandatory for all vessels flying the flag of an EU state over 15 meters in length, in the non-European Mediterranean Ais is not required by most states. For this reason, most of the alleged infringements were found by the EU fleets.

So, as Tony Long, CEO of Global Fishing Watch explains, the analysis on alleged infringements represents the tip of the iceberg, since it is based only on AIS data that not all fishing vessels use constantly, “even if it is not possible to trace. boats that deliberately turn off their AIS when they enter a closed area, or perhaps never use it, the Atlas and the associated survey highlight that the problem exists and is serious “.

Today 75% of the Mediterranean fish stocks are subject to overexploitation. “Illegal fishing in protected areas – underlines Aniol Esteban, Steering Committee of the Med Sea Alliance – undermines the national and regional management measures of fish stocks, threatens the livelihoods of fishermen who follow the rules and damages the conservation efforts of the Marine environment”.

Marine Protected Areas, Fisheries Restricted Areas, Biological Protection Areas and Natura 2000 sites are a prerequisite for the recovery and protection of the Mediterranean Sea. Evidence of suspected or confirmed cases of trawling in protected areas suggests that unregulated and unregulated fishing is undermining their sustainability.

Med Sea Alliance members call on governments to effectively protect closed areas from trawling through full enforcement and greater transparency. And they ask the EU and the contracting parties of the CGPM to investigate potential violations, take action and provide public information on confirmed cases, and to put in place an effective monitoring system by tracing all fishing vessels with the Vessel Monitoring System, also imposing the obligation of the AIS for all vessels over 15 meters in length.