Oceana has reported on the concerning state of swordfish fisheries in the Mediterranean, highlighting in particular the indiscriminate targeting and trading of this fish by EU (particularly Italian) vessels.
According to the NGO, EU inspectors recorded a series of serious incidents in Italy during March 2013. These included the widespread trading of undersized swordfish, unusually large volumes of landings, pervasive irregularities in vessel and catch documentation, disinterest by local authorities and disregard for regional conservation measures.
Oceana have also denounced the fact that high market prices are working as an incentive for this irresponsible harvesting of vulnerable Mediterranean swordfish populations. The NGO is calling for the EU to work towards defining sustainability measures in ICCAT and be coherent with European sustainability objectives.
Having visited the beautiful coast of Southern Italy last year, I was struck by the widespread presence of undersized fish in markets, the ubiquitous presence of monofilament net in small fishing vessels and the presence of gill nets in areas that were supposedly protected. In addition, superficial enquiries revealed that flaunting fisheries laws in respect of tuna and swordfish appears to be accepted as common.
Of course this was in no way a scientific research exercise and I accept that the views of the people I spoke to may not be representative of others in the region. However, the reports made by the Commission’s own inspectors are, according to the NGO, alarming and strongly suggestive of a widespread culture of non-compliance.
In my opinion, this should concern the Commission deeply, and not just from the perspective of swordfish conservation.
Firstly, whilst some countries in Europe are making an effort to implement the Control and IUU regulations, it is becoming increasingly obvious that others are not. The strength of our common legislation lies in the success of coordinated control measures. Any systemic compliance voids are, effectively, tears in the European fabric of fisheries control and they must be identified and closed before they become gaping wounds.
Further, and perhaps most importantly, the EU has sustained a very high-profile campaign against IUU fishing internationally. The IUU Regulation is a legal achievement whose technical and political success at global level may not have been possible just a few years back. However, if the EU wants to continue to lead the fight against IUU fishing unchallenged, it must be itself a model of compliance.
The Commission now needs to act urgently and decisively to ensure the uniform implementation of our common fisheries laws in the territory of the Union and to show the world that IUU fishing will not be tolerated wherever it occurs. If our domestic fleets’ depredations go unaddressed, others may begin to question the legitimacy of the Control and the IUU Regulations and the significant compliance efforts that some European countries have made may yet turn sterile.
PhD Candidate (University of Hull)