Environment

Commission proposal for a blanket-ban on driftnet fishing

18 June 2014

Article by Alex Royan and  Nia Seaton, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Image by llhourahane via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.
Image from Flickr by llhourahane. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

The European Commission has proposed regulations that will prohibit fishing with driftnets in EU waters. The proposals, which would come into force on 1 January 2015 pending approval, would introduce a blanket-ban on all driftnet fisheries irrespective of the size of net used. The Commission refers to on-going non-compliance of existing EC regulation by some Member States as the rationale behind the proposals but Welsh fishermen have stated that the ban will have serious consequences for Wales.

Flouting the rules

Driftnet fishing – the practice of drifting gillnets near the surface of the water to capture a wide range of fish – was regulated in the European Union legislation in 1997 (Council Regulation (EC) No 894/97). This prohibited the use of driftnets longer than 2.5 km in length so as to minimise the by-catch of protected species, including whales and dolphins, turtles, sea birds, and sharks.

The current proposals follow the publication of a ‘roadmap’ which reviewed driftnet fishing in the EU and the impacts it has on the marine ecosystem. According to the Commission, weaknesses and loopholes in existing regulation and the small-scale nature of driftnet fishing makes it easy to circumvent rules and escape controls.

Maria Damanaki, European Commissioner for Maritime wildlife Affairs and Fisheries, stated,

“Fishing with driftnets destroys marine habitats, endangers marine wildlife and threatens sustainable fisheries.”

 “Illegal fishing practices ruin the income of honest fishermen and coastal communities – and the future of fisheries altogether. Therefore, in the interest of all, implementation and enforcement of the rules are at the heart of the Commission priorities.”

Welsh Government position

Around 250 UK-registered vessels use driftnets of which perhaps some 70 operate in in-shore fisheries around the Welsh Coast. The Welsh Government has called the proposal ‘very blunt and inappropriate’. It states that the small scale driftnet fisheries in operation in Wales bear no resemblance to the large scale driftnet fisheries in operation in the Mediterranean and Baltic seas where the problems identified by the Commission exist. The Welsh Government has stated that it was unaware that the Commission intended to publish proposals to ban all driftnet fisheries and that it is working with other UK Fisheries Administrations to provide an appropriate response.

The UK Government has outlined its stance on the proposals in an Explanatory memorandum (EM). The EM outlines a similar position to that of the Welsh Government. The UK Government rejects a full ban on driftnets, instead calling for a risk-based regional approach so that monitoring and mitigation is targeted at only non-compliant fisheries with better enforcement of existing legislation on the prohibition on the use of some driftnets.

Stakeholders’ response

UK fisherman’s organisations have expressed concern over the proposals.The National Federation of Fisherman’s Organisations (NFFO) has suggested that the proposals would close all of the UK small-scale driftnet fisheries for herring, mackerel, sole, bass, salmon, sardine and mullet, including some certificated by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

In a letter to Maria Damanaki, Jerry Percy, chairman of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUTFA), said that whilst the NUTFA share the Commission’s concerns regarding the application of driftnets in the Mediterranean, “this form of drift netting is distant, both geographically and metaphorically from the far smaller scale and environmentally acceptable use of drift nets in UK and adjacent waters.”

Some organisations in the environmental sector have welcomed the proposals and Amanda Nickson, director of Global Tuna Conservation, said “the Commission’s proposed regulation to ban outright the use of driftnets demonstrates a clear determination to end this environmentally damaging practice and to address illegal fishing of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea.”