Selective fish nets, off-seasons adopted to protect Mediterranean fish stocks: UN agency

16 January 2007

In an effort to stop the depletion of fish stocks in the Mediterranean Sea, where catches of blue-fin tuna plunged by almost half from 1994 to 2002, a group of over 50 countries have agreed at a United Nations conference on a raft of protection measures – from more selective types of netting to six-month off-seasons.

The measures were adopted during the annual meeting of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), held earlier this month in Rome, the organization said in a press release issued on Monday.

“This is a milestone – we will now have a tool for getting a complete picture of what kind of fishing is going on in the entire area, and to finally be able to address the management of multispecies fisheries,” said GFCM Secretary Alain Bonzon.

“What’s more, these new definitions of fishing effort will enable us to study and make recommendations specific to sub-sectors of the various fishing fleets, which will improve management overall. These various measures should help substantially decrease illegal unreported and unregulated fishing.”

One of the meeting’s main outcomes was an agreement on the use of new, more selective types of netting in bottom trawls. Changes to the shape of the mesh holes in the “cod end” section of the trawls will permit small juvenile fish that have not yet reproduced to escape capture and return to the wild to breed.

The commission also agreed on a common set of benchmarks for measuring the capacity of fishing fleets in the region and assessing their impacts on shared fish stocks, the first time such a unified system has existed in the Mediterranean.

Additionally, GFCM members signed off on new rules for tuna fishing, recently adopted by the International Commission on Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT). These measures include a 15-year recovery plan for blue-fin tuna starting in 2007 and running through 2022.

The plan also calls for six-month off seasons for specific types of boats, bans the use of aircraft in spotting tuna, forbids the capture of tuna under 30 kilograms except in certain specific circumstances, and requires better reporting of tuna catches. It also allows tuna to only be offloaded at designated ports and obliges countries to place observers on fishing boats to monitor their adherence to regulations.

FAO classifies blue-fin tuna stocks in the Mediterranean as “depleted,” meaning that current catches fall far below historic levels. Landings of the large, far-ranging fish in Mediterranean waters peaked at 39,000 tonnes in 1994, but by 2002 dropped by nearly half that amount to 22,000 tonnes.

GFCM members are: Albania, Algeria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Monaco, Morocco, Romania, Slovenia, Serbia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey, and the European Community. Membership is open to Mediterranean coastal States and countries that fish in Mediterranean waters.


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