Greenpeace confiscates ‘wall of death’ fishing net in the Mediterranean Sea

Press release - 7 May, 2008
Activists onboard the Greenpeace vessel, Arctic Sunrise, confronted Italian fishing “pirates” in the Mediterranean Sea and confiscated almost two kilometres of illegal driftnet containing dead undersized bluefin tuna and a small sea turtle that was later released alive.

The Arctic Sunrise crew came across the Italian fishing vessel Diomede II, fishing with 8 - 10 kilometers of driftnet in international waters approximately fifty kilometres from the coast of Sicily, Italy (1). The crew had covered the vessel's name and registration number to avoid being identified. Diomede II is licensed only to fish with longline or anchored nets, and only within fifteen kilometres of the coast. The Arctic Sunrise is now following Diomede II towards its home harbour, and Greenpeace has requested that the coastguard confiscate the illegal driftnet and catch.

Driftnets are huge floating nets that act as 'walls of death' for fish and other sea life. They were banned by the United Nations and the European Union because they indiscriminately trapped and killed thousands of whales, dolphins and turtles in the Mediterranean each year (2). Despite the bans, driftnet fleets from Italy and other Mediterranean countries are still fishing - Italian authorities continue to confiscate hundreds of kilometres of driftnet each year.

"Bans are useless if they are not enforced," said Alessandro Gianni of Greenpeace Italy. "Italian and EU authorities must end this shameful practice and adopt strong European Union laws to ban pirate fishing vessels from access to European ports and funds. It is a scandal that Greenpeace is still finding newly built vessels fishing with driftnets, known to indiscriminately trap and kill protected species, more than a decade after driftnets were banned."

The European Commission has proposed new laws that would blacklist fishing vessels involved in illegal practices. (3) But Italy and other member states are seeking to water down those laws.

Greenpeace launched a campaign in 2006 calling for the creation a network of marine reserves for the Mediterranean Sea. This network is vital to ensure that fish stocks recover and the fishing industry has a sustainable future. Stocks of large predators such as tuna and swordfish, targeted by driftnets, are in peril globally, and are estimated to be reduced by 80%. A network of marine reserves and the end of fishing piracy are two basic ingredients for the recovery of the Mediterranean Sea, and are in the best interests of the honest fisherman.

"Failure to set up a network of marine reserves will spell disaster for conservation, disaster for fish stocks and disaster for the long term economic interest of fishermen. If we want fish tomorrow, we need marine reserves today," concluded Gianni.

Greenpeace is campaigning for a global network of fully protected marine reserves covering 40% of our oceans as an essential way to protect our seas from the ravages of climate change, to restore the health of fish stocks, and protect ocean life from habitat destruction and collapse. As part of this campaign, the Arctic Sunrise is currently in the Mediterranean documenting threats to the sea and promoting the designation of marine reserves.

Other contacts: Alessandro Gianni - Greenpeace Italy Oceans Campaigner, on board the Arctic Sunrise: Phone + 31 20 712 2616 or + 31 20 712 2617, mobile +39 340 800 9534Omer Elnaiem, Greenpeace International Communications, mobile + 31 6 15093589John Novis, Greenpeace International Photo Desk +44 207 865 8230Maarten van Rouveroy, Greenpeace International Video Desk: +31 646 162 015

Notes: (1) The vessel Diomede II was found at 37 deg 59.8 N, 16 deg 45.8 E. The vessel was built in 2006 and is licensed under EU law to fish with longlines and anchored floating gillnets, within fifteen kilometres of the coast. The vessel was fishing with a driftnet 8 – 10 kilometres long (from radar and visual observations) around fifty kilometres from the coast in international waters.(2) In the 1990s it was estimated that 8 to 29 whales and dolphins were caught for every 100 casts in the Italian fishery, which gave rise to annual estimates of over 8,000 cetaceans being trapped every year. See: Di Natale A. & G. Notarbartolo di Sciara (1994). A review of the passive fishing nets and trap fisheries in the Mediterranean Sea and of cetacean bycatch. International Whaling Commission Report, Special Issue 15:189-202.(3) The European Commission has proposed a regulation which creates a “blacklist” of pirate fishing vessels: pirates would be denied assistance in EU ports and other privileges, including access to public subsidies such as those already used for decommissioning driftnets in Italy.