Oceana calls for urgent measures to be taken to halt this illegal and highly damaging fishing method and welcomes the intervention by the UK Fisheries Minister urging his European colleagues to take action.



Today the Council of EU Fisheries Ministers put off agreement on legislation defining a driftnet, which would have closed a loophole in the EU law banning their use, enabling many vessels to flout the ban. Oceana calls on Ministers to agree this legislation by the end of June and also to take other urgent measures to put an end to illegal driftnet fishing.

“While half hearted decisions are taken by European Fisheries Ministers on tuna and other species, illegal EU driftnet vessels continue to fish for tuna and swordfish, undermining attempts to conserve dwindling fish stocks” says Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana for Europe. “Ministers are making decisions based on national and short term political needs, closing their eyes to the reality of what is happening on our seas. Illegal driftnetters are making a mockery of EU law”.
For the third consecutive year, Oceana’s research catamaran, the Oceana Ranger, is in the Mediterranean, identifying, documenting and reporting vessels engaged in illegal driftnet activities. Oceana also has observers on land, identifying vessels with driftnets on board in ports and observing landings of fish from driftnet vessels.
Initial findings include that:
·     The driftnet ban continues to be widely flouted 5 years after it entered into force. 67 French and over 50 Italian illegal vessels were identified on shore and at sea.
·      The average engine power of a number of the vessels observed exceeds that expected for an artisanal fishery.
·       Vessels constructed as recently as 2004 were found with driftnets on board, that is 2 years after the EU driftnet ban came into effect.
·      In Italy, Oceana has discovered that many of the illegal vessels denounced by Oceana in 2005 and 2006 continue to operate, despite the alleged increased controls by Italy.
As well as agreeing the so-called Driftnet Definition Regulation to close the loophole, Oceana is also calling for the EU Member States to improve ineffective control regimes which fail to crack down on driftnets and other illegal fishing gear and also to ensure that no European taxpayers’ money finances illegal fishing activity.
Xavier Pastor adds:  It is now over 5 years since the driftnet ban came into force and we are still seeing many vessels openly fishing with these illegal nets. I amhappy to see at least one Minister taking a stance and a positive response by Commissioner Borg. But it should be 27 Fishing Ministers standing up and taking a zero tolerance approach to illegal fishing activities”.



© OCEANA/ Carlos Suárez
French driftnetter fishing on high seas


Italian driftnetter in the Port of S.Agata di Militello


Plaza España-Leganitos 47. 28013 Madrid, Spain
Tel: + 34 911 440 880 Fax: + 34 911 440 890   E-mail: europe@oceana.org   Web: www.oceana.org

Oceana is an international organization which campaigns to protect and restore the world’s oceans. Our teams of marine scientists, economists, lawyers and other collaborators are achieving specific and concrete policy changes to reduce pollution and prevent the irreversible collapse of fish populations, and to protect marine mammals and other sea life It has offices based in Europe – (in Madrid in Spain and Brussels in Belgium), in North America (Washington, DC, Juneau (Alaska) and Los Angeles (CA), and in South America ( in Santiago in Chile).  More than 300,000 members and e-activists in 150 countries have already joined Oceana.

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Current management systems have led to the economic factors that cause this tremendous waste of fishing resources

Oceana calls for a total prohibition of discards in the European fleet as a much-needed measure for the protection of fishing resources and marine ecosystems



More than 7.3 million tonnes of fish are thrown overboard every year. This amount represents 8% of the world’s total catch. This practice, known in the fishing world as discards, consists of throwing away the portion of the catch which is of no commercial value or which infringes some current norm or regulation. The accidental capture of non-commercial or non-target species, catches that are over the quota or that are too young, or even the simple desire to raise the product market price are some of the reasons why discards are such a widespread practice.

Discards are not only a waste of fishing resources, they also pose an additional problem where over-exploitation is concerned as they cannot be adequately measured for the purposes of evaluating the real state of stocks. Scientists do not receive any information about what is really being taken from the sea, and so the models that are applied for evaluating the state of fishing grounds are dubious or even erroneous. Discards also disrupt the ecosystem and put the future survival of fish populations at risk. Oceana calls for the total prohibition of this practice in the European fleet. Countries like Norway and Iceland have already made this new measure a part of their national legislation.
For the European Commission, minimising discards is a priority of the first order for management of fishing grounds. That is why the Commission intends to publish a Communication setting out the procedures for the elimination of this practice in the fishing fleet in the coming years. According to Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director of Oceana for Europe: Let’s hope that the direction taken by the Commission is the correct one and is not just limited to a series of purely superficial or cosmetic measures that leave new legal loopholes for the maintenance of this practice. Oceana not only calls for the total prohibition of discards but also for measures that move towards keeping in check the causes of this practice and that they should be accompanied by adequate controls, without which the plan’s effectiveness will be put at risk.
One of the main causes of discards is the TAC (Total Allowable Catch) system, which is the quota system used in the EU. It theoretically provides a number of quotas for catches, but there is a problem: these quotas are based on what is unloaded in port. The quotas should really be called Total Allowable Landings. If a ship exceeds the assigned quota, the only alternative available to the captain is to throw overboard, or discard, the excess fish. It is estimated that 1 out of every 6 kilos that reaches port in the EU is thrown overboard as discards. This estimate is based on unloading at port, not on real catches, and so this figure could be considerably higher. Oceana has frequently reiterated the need for assigned quotas to really be for catches and not for quantities unloaded.
Another common cause of discards is the capture of fish that are smaller than the permitted size, according to the current Minimum Landing Sizes. The use of unselective fishing gear leads to the illegal capture of immature fish that cannot be unloaded at port and that cannot be commercially used for any other purpose. Consequently these individuals are also discarded. The capture and discard of immature fish eliminates the possibility of their growing and becoming reproducers, thus reducing stocks without providing any commercial benefit.
Bycatch, or accidental catches make up the greatest part of the discarded fish, however they are not accounted for or regulated. There are fishing grounds in the EU where 70% of the total discard is made up of species with no commercial value.
Ricardo Aguilar adds: A total prohibition of discards for the European fishing fleet would make fishermen amongst the first in being very interested in reducing bycatch. They would use all means at their disposal to increase the selectivity of their fishing gear”. He concludes by saying “Let’s hope that this process set in motion by the European Commission imposes measures to minimise this practice as soon as humanly possible and that these measures can be adapted to the reality of the situation”. <0}



© OCEANA / Juan Cuetos                                   
        © OCEANA / Juan Cuetos



Oceana has videos and photographs documenting discards.




Plaza España-Leganitos 47. 28013 Madrid, España
Tel: + 34 911 440 880   Fax: + 34 911 440 890  E-mail: europe@oceana.org   Web: www.oceana.org

Oceana campaigns to protect and restore the world’s oceans. Our teams of marine scientists, economists, lawyers and advocates win specific and concrete policy changes to reduce pollution and to prevent the irreversible collapse of fish populations, marine mammals and other sea life. Global in scope and dedicated to conservation, Oceana has campaigners based in Europe (Madrid, Spain; Brussels, Belgium), North America (Washington, DC; Juneau, AK; Los Angeles, CA), and South America (Santiago, Chile).  More than 300,000 members and e-activists in over 150 countries have already joined Oceana. For more information, please visit