From: , Oceana, More from this Affiliate
Published August 17, 2007 02:41 PM

Oceana interceps a moroccan driftnetter fishing inside the Alboran island reserve

Madrid -- Last Thursday, at seven in the evening, the Oceana Ranger research catamaran, property of the international marine conservation organisation Oceana, detected a Moroccan fishing vessel nine miles east of Alboran Island, setting an illegal driftnet measuring over five meters in length in Spanish waters and within the Alboran fishing reserve.


The Ranger was in the area documenting deep-sea sea beds with the help of an underwater robot, to contribute information to conservation and research initiatives for the ecosystems within the reserve.


The catamaran’s crew sailed towards the Moroccan vessel and as soon as they reached it, saw two groups of several dozens of bottlenose and common dolphins swimming close to the net, which was set out like a curtain approximately thirty meters in height. The dolphins were in serious danger of getting caught in the net.


Oceana members graphically documented the situation and called, by telephone and radio, the General Secretariat of Fisheries of the Ministry of Agriculture, the head of the Guardia Civil in Almeria and the military detachment in the Alboran Island. They also tried, unsuccessfully, to contact the Autonomous Government of Andalusia, but got no response at that hour in the evening.


The MAPA patrol boat “Riscos de Famara”, assigned to monitor the Alboran reserve, immediately responded to the Oceana Ranger's radio call while they were busy withdrawing other fishing gear illegally set within the reserve. As soon as they finished this task, the patrol boat set sail towards the area indicated by Oceana and found the Moroccan fishing vessel in the middle of setting the driftnet, approximately two hours after the Ranger first located it. The “Riscos de Famara” limited itself to informing the fishing vessel’s crew that they were in protected Spanish territorial waters and asked them to haul in their nets and abandon the area.


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“Although we applaud the MAPA patrol boat’s speedy reaction after Oceana's complaint, we can only regret their weakness and lack of dissuasive capacity”, claimed Xavier Pastor, director of the organisation for Europe and the person in charge of the expedition onboard the Ranger. “The Moroccan fleet’s repeated failure to comply with Spanish and international fishing regulations within Spanish territorial waters cannot be resolved with a simple request for the offenders to leave the area. The shameless violation of regulations that took place directly in front of Oceana and the Spanish authorities of different ministries required the arrest of the illegal fishing vessel, its transfer to a Spanish port, the confiscation of its nets and the appearance of the vessel's crew before a judge. None of this happened”.


The use of driftnets is prohibited by the United Nations on the high seas and by the European Union in its waters. In compliance with these prohibitions, Spain eliminated its own driftnetter fleet a decade ago. Morocco maintains a fleet of more than 150 vessels that use these illegal nets in the Alboran Sea and the Straits of Gibraltar, where they create serious problems for maritime traffic crossing the Straits, forcing the ships to manoeuvre in small areas with heavy traffic in order to avoid getting their propellers and rudders caught in the nets. Although the Moroccan driftnetter fleet’s target species is the swordfish, and by using illegal nets they create an unfair competition with the Spanish longliners from Andalucia and Murcia, they also capture thousands of cetaceans. A WWF report estimates that these nets cause the deaths of approximately 12,000 common and striped dolphins each year. Driftnets also capture sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales, sperm whales and even common and minke whales. This last species is one of the largest whales that exist in the oceans.


For the past three years, Oceana has been monitoring and keeping track of the Moroccan driftnetter fleet both at sea and at the ports of Nador, Alhucemas and Tangiers (“The use of driftnets by the Moroccan fleet”). The Moroccan government finally approved a law prohibiting the use of these nets and affirms they have implemented a conversion plan, financed by the EU, which should completely eliminate these nets by the beginning of 2009. “That is good news”, affirms Pastor, “but meanwhile, these nets are still illegal in the face of international regulations and their use in Spanish territorial waters should be relentlessly persecuted”.


Oceana members point out that 95% of the fish caught by the Moroccan fleet with these illegal nets is sold in Spain and through Spanish companies, and that this should be investigated and prohibited.


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