Marine wildlife is being destroyed because fishermen continue to flout European regulations banning driftnets, according to a report being presented to the European Commission today.
The report by the RSPCA reveals new evidence of flagrant breaches of EU laws by Italian fishermen in the Mediterranean.
The rules are designed to protect marine wildlife and the report shows how loopholes in Italian law have let some fishermen continue fishing illegally three-and-a-half years after a total EU ban came into effect
The RSPCA and Humane Society International (HIS) are urging the European Commission to sanction Italy for breaking fishing laws.
David Bowles, head of External Affairs at the RSPCA said: “We believe that both the spirit and the letter of the law are being broken.
“Legal loopholes created by the Italian government are effectively enabling continued in-shore netting and harming protected wildlife and fishing stocks.
“It is one thing to bring in a law to protect marine wildlife but it has to be enforced.
“Although this study focuses on specific areas of Italy, we have grave concerns that illegal driftnet fishing could be occurring on a much wider basis over the Mediterranean region.
“The European Commission must take tougher measures to ensure fishermen uphold the law.”
The new report calls for urgent action by the Italian government to stop illegal fisheries and protect cetaceans like whales and dolphins from being trapped and killed in driftnets.
It urges the Commission to begin legal proceedings in the European Court of Justice to stop the practice.
The report also calls for enforcement to prevent illegally caught swordfish and tuna being landed in Italian ports and effective sanctions to confiscate illegal nets and stop proliferation of driftnets disguised as bottom gill nets.
The latest study found several boats in Ischia off the West Coast of Italy, had been modified to hide illegal nets. Ten boats showed no name and all the boats had nets that exceeded the EU limit of 2.5 km/boat. In one case the net length was up to 42.9 km.
:: The number of boats using illegal nets had risen. In 2004 the RSPCA/HSI monitoring found 15 vessels in Ischia Harbour with driftnets. By 2005 this had risen to 24 vessels in the area.
:: Two vessels were recorded landing fish illegally in both 2004 and 2005 in Ischia, showing that no action had been taken against them since they were recorded operating illegally last year.
:: Illegal landings under both Italian and EU legislation of species such as swordfish and tuna caught by driftnets were observed in both 2004 and 2005.
:: In 2004, five sperm whales were found simultaneously entangled in an illegal driftnet.
Laila Sadler, marine biologist in the RSPCA Science Group said: “The waters around Ischia are important for many cetacean species, including dolphins and nursery groups of sperm whales.
“The area has been listed as a critical habitat for locally endangered short beaked common dolphin. This illegal netting can cause a cruel and significant death toll to dolphins and whales.”
The RSPCA and Humane Society International have campaigned for many years against the use of high seas driftnets in the Mediterranean, culminating in an EU prohibition in January 2002.
The RSPCA said to date no action has been taken against the Italian authorities for contraventions of EU legislation, nor has any effective action been taken by the Italian authorities to stop illegal fishing practices.