Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing in the European Union: The case of Italian illegal driftnets

On the morning of 7 May 2008 the Italian fishing vessel Diomede II entered the port of Giardini di Naxos escorted by two Greenpeace inflatables. Port Authority military personnel were waiting for it. The fishing vessel had been intercepted by the activists 27 miles off Capo Spartivento – it had been using illegal driftnets to catch prohibited species outside the authorised fishing area. An onboard inspection led to the seizure of about 3km of nets and 11 tunas. In the ‘sea’ of illegality in which the Italian driftnets fishery is floundering, this case would have attracted little interest were it not for the fact that in January 2009 it was brought before the United States Congress by the National Marine Fisheries Service of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities. NOAA’s report defined the Diomede II’s fishing activity as being in violation of ICCAT’s Recommendation 03-04, which prohibits the use of driftnets to capture large pelagic species in the Mediterranean Sea. Together with other illegal fishing activities where Italian vessels used spotter planes to track down bluefin tuna schools, this case earned Italy a place on NOAA’s blacklist of States that practise IUU fishing, which brings with it a risk of future commercial sanctions by the USA.

IUU fishing is one of the most serious threats to marine living resources and threatens the very foundation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and other fisheries management systems. The value of IUU fishing globally has been estimated at more than €10 billion. 

The lack of controls and the absence of effective sanctions in several Member States make European waters particularly vulnerable to illegal fishing. According to a recent study, a successful fight against IUU fishing could create 27,000 new jobs and catches worth €10 billion in Europe by 2020. If Italy fought seriously against the IUU fishing of bluefin tuna and swordfish alone, the value of annual catches would increase by about €26 million and would lead to the creation of 1,000 jobs in the fishing sector by 2020. 

To counter the violations, the European Union (EU) approved a new set of rules on IUU fishing, which came into force on 1 January 20105. Regulation 1005/2008 provides a harmonised system of proportionate and deterrent sanctions; extends the responsibility to abide by CFP rules to EU citizens, who can be prosecuted in their countries for violations committed in any part of the world; and closes access to the European market for marine fishery products coming from illegal activities. Moreover, the Regulation authorised the Commission to draw up two blacklists: the first includes vessels engaged in IUU fishing; the second lists States that turn a blind eye to illegal fishing activities.

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Appolonia Benoist

Associate, Communications