Environmentalists denounce use of illegal ‘killer nets’ by foreign fishermen near Spanish waters

Image of alleged drift nets piled up on a quayside.

Image of alleged drift nets piled up on a quayside. Credit: Twitter@Alnitak_org

Environmental organisations have denounced the activities being carried out near Spanish waters by foreign fishermen allegedly using illegal ‘killer nets’.

European and Spanish authorities have been accused of not taking sufficient action. The activity of these fishing boats in the Alboran Sea has been reported to the General Directorate of the Guardia Civil by the marine conservation associations Alnitak and Equinac.

At least 1,000 Moroccan fishing vessels are thought to be among those using the pirate fishing nets. Such nets are known to cause the death of large numbers of protected cetaceans and other endangered species that get caught up in them accidentally.

The environmentalists have demanded that the European Union and the Government of Spain both take the necessary actions to enforce regulations regarding the use of illegal nets. They also want to prevent the importation of these fish into the EU.

In an effort to monitor the use of these so-called ‘curtains of death’, the Alnitak Research Institute launched the ‘Toftevaag’ research fishing vessel at the start of May.

An expedition to try and intercept the use of illegal nets has been ongoing in the waters of the Alboran Sea. So far this month, six such operations have been registered along with four instances of ‘ghost’ fishing gear used in driftnet fishing.

According to Alnitak and Equinac, there are currently 940 ships and 2,200 km of illegal nets moored in the Mediterranean ports of Morocco, as reported by laopiniondemalaga.es, this Friday, May 26.

“We hope that with this complaint neither the pirate fishermen nor the institutions, which have an obligation to enforce the law, such as the Ministry for Ecological Transition, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the DGMARE, will go unpunished”, said Ricardo Sagarminaga, the founder of Alnitak.

His organisation has been dedicated to the conservation and protection of marine ecosystems for more than 30 years.

On May 14, Alnitak tweeted a post with an image of nets piled up on the quayside: “Drift nets. No one here is hiding, they are in plain sight. Except Spanish and EU administrations, who know but don’t want to act”.

The action of this entity coincided with protests made by the Spanish fishing fleet due to the passivity of the national and community authorities in the face of illegal fishing with pelagic driftnets by Morocco, Algeria, and Italy.

Eva María Morón, the coordinator of the Equinac marine fauna recovery centre in Almeria pointed out: “As every year, the centre is saturated by the large number of cetaceans and sea turtles that reach the coast of Almería, victims of entanglement in these nets”.

In 2005, a scientific study presented to ICATT reported the significant impact of these nets on the Moroccan fleet, with an associated mortality of thousands of dolphins and turtles and tens of thousands of sharks each year.

“Following this study, the US and the EU paid more than €15 million to the Kingdom of Morocco for the conversion of its fleet and the elimination of these nets, which were already prohibited in the Mediterranean since 2001. However, this conversion never took place”, claimed the conservation entities in a statement.

They also stated that for years, since 2010, the Spanish longline fleet has been informing the Spanish authorities, Brussels, ICCAT, and the General Fisheries Council for the Mediterranean about the increasing presence of vessels using these nets along North Africa and even by the Calabrian fishing fleet from Italy.

Using backtracking modelling carried out for several strandings of protected species in driftnets, Alnitak carried out a campaign in the Alboran Sea one year ago to find out if this pirate fishing really existed.

“The results of this campaign showed a devastating reality, confirming the illegal activity of almost 1,000 vessels using more than 2,200 km of illegal network, more than double the number before 2010”, commented Sagarminaga.

Alnitak presented the data and images of its campaign to the Spanish Government, the European Commission, the ICCAT and the GFCM, and verified: “a lack of political will to face this situation, which constitutes the main threat to the protected megafauna of the Mediterranean”.

“It is outrageous that a blind eye is turned to what is happening off our coasts and even in our jurisdictional waters”, he insisted.

He also highlighted that the monitoring program of protected species that Alnitak had been carrying out for more than three decades showed a significant decline in cetacean populations in the Alboran Sea region.

There has been a reduction of more than 60 per cent in the size of family units and herds of species such as the common dolphin and the pilot whale he explained.

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Written by

Chris King

Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at editorial@euroweeklynews.com