MedFish4Ever Summit: NGOs Call on Fisheries Ministers to Take Action to End Illegal Bottom Trawling in Mediterranean

As fisheries ministers gathered in Malta this week for the high-level MedFish4Ever conference, NGOs called on them to end the illegal bottom trawling that is driving destruction of protected areas in the Mediterranean, by strengthening compliance and enforcement ahead of November's General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) annual session in Croatia [1,2]. 

In a Call to Action published during MedFish4Ever, several member organisations of the Med Sea Alliance, a coalition of non-government organisations working to improve the health and productivity of the Mediterranean Sea, said that "taking decisive action to end bottom trawling in the Mediterranean Sea in areas where it is already banned, and hence considered illegal, should be a top priority for GFCM members, who are together responsible for promoting sustainable fisheries and protecting marine biodiversity in the Mediterranean"[3].

"It is vital that fisheries ministers recognise that not only is illegal bottom trawling taking place in the Mediterranean, but this destructive practice is putting ecosystems and livelihoods at risk, and that many protection measures currently exist only 'on paper' - that is, without full enforcement", said Aniol Esteban, Chair of the Med Sea Alliance and director of the Marilles Foundation. 

"Today, 73% of assessed Mediterranean fish stocks are fished outside biologically sustainable limits, with fishing pressure on average twice the level considered sustainable. Across the Mediterranean, governments must take urgent steps to end illegal bottom trawling by strengthening transparency, compliance, and the enforcement of fisheries management measures".

"Fisheries ministers here today at the #MedFish4Ever conference must ensure that during next month's GFCM meeting in Split, member governments adopt recommendations to establish corrective measures that will help end illegal bottom trawling in the Mediterranean", continued Esteban. "It is well within the power of ministers to enact these crucial measures, and would go a significant way to preventing this activity devastating our protected areas."

MarineProtected Areas (MPAs) and other spatial fisheries closures are powerful tools for fish stock recovery and protecting sensitive habitats. While regulations prohibit trawling in some designated areas or periods, evidence demonstrates (see section on Med Sea Alliance Atlas below) that bottom trawling is occurring in areas where it is prohibited. 

"Although the GFCM, the regional fisheries management body, has agreed measures aimed at fighting illegal fishing, these are not always adequately implemented or enforced", said Esteban. "This lack of enforcement and compliance is putting Mediterranean fisheries, ecosystems and livelihoods at serious risk. Yet the technology required for enforcement is affordable, easy to adopt and has been successfully deployed in other regions. What we now need is the collective political will that will prove crucial for putting this enforcement in place."

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