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» 04.06.2010 - Morocco stalls EU-Sahara fisheries examination
» 09.12.2008 - EU-Moroccan deal "illegal"; UN expert
» 25.11.2008 - Tuna commission criticised for endorsing high quotas
» 03.11.2008 - W/Sahara contests inclusion in EU-Morocco deal
» 23.07.2008 - 60 injured after Moroccan-Sahrawi clashes in Dakhla
» 03.09.2007 - US, Morocco sign largest MCC compact
» 22.05.2006 - EU okays Morocco fishing deal despite Sahrawi protests
» 07.03.2006 - Fight over legality of EU fisheries in Western Sahara

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Economy - Development | Environment - Nature

Moroccan fisheries threaten Mediterranean dolphins

Driftnet fishermen with dolphin bycatch:
«Favourable to change toward other fisheries.»

© afrol News / Association AZIR (Maroc)
afrol News, 20 November
- Illegal fishing techniques practiced by the fishing communities of Northern Morocco are producing so much bycatches that they are threatening eastern Mediterranean populations of dolphins and sharks. The fishermen are more than willing to change their catching methods but are in need of public funding to cover this transition.

According to a new report, financed by WWF, a fleet of at least 177 small fishing vessels are engaged in the illegal driftnet fishing of swordfish. Official Moroccan records even put the number of vessels at 370.

Fishing swordfish is not illegal, but using driftnets in the Mediterranean is. While European countries have prohibited the driftnets altogether - because of the elevated bycatches of dolphins, sea turtles and other vulnerable species - Morocco has ratified international legislation prohibiting driftnets that are longer than 2.5 kilometres. Nets used by the Moroccan fleet however could be anywhere between 7 and 14 kilometres long.

A Spanish-Moroccan-Italian research team visited the main fishing ports of Northern Morocco - Tangiers, Al Hoceima, Nador, Asilah and Larache - during eight months, observing the industry and its catch. They were to observe the elevated bycatch rate they had anticipated.

- It arose from our monitoring work that dolphins, together with pelagic sharks are the most impacted groups, at least in absolute numbers, the research team concluded. Other bycatch observed had included several species of whale and the bottlenose dolphin - which were "known to be commonly caught" - and to a lesser degree the loggerhead turtle, which is a highly endangered species.

Bycatch estimates for a 12-month period by the Moroccan driftnet fleet yielded a figure of approximately 4,000 dolphins in the Alboran Sea - the narrow basin between Northern Morocco and Southern Spain. "A according to our estimates a further 13,000 individuals would be killed annually by the fleet based in Tangiers around the Straits of Gibraltar and neighbouring areas, mostly outside the Mediterranean Basin," the researchers say.

As for sharks, about 23,000 individuals were captured annually by the fleet from the Mediterranean ports Al Hoceima and Nador and a further 77,500 would be caught b

Fishing vessel in the port of Al Hoceima.
«Illegal driftnet fishing is slaughtering vulnerable species.»

© Association AZIR (Maroc)
y the fleet of Tangiers. While dolphin bycatches are not commercialised, sharks were getting an increased target for the fishermen as swordfish catches are declining.

The WWF researchers found that these results were pointing "to an unsustainable impact, especially for dolphins." More than 10 percent of the dolphin population size in the Alboran Sea was killed annually, which is far more than their reproduction rate. The Alboran Sea further housed the last remnant healthy population of dolphins in the whole of the Mediterranean.

This "overfishing" of dolphins in Moroccan waters already seemed to have caused changes in the population. Genetic tests conducted in Spain had shown that the Alboran Sea dolphins now were closer related to Atlantic populations than to other Mediterranean populations. The decimated Alboran Sea population seemed to be constantly refilled with Atlantic individuals, entering through the Straits of Gibraltar.

As for the Moroccan fishermen, the driftnet technique - that was introduced to catch swordfish some ten years ago - was producing declining profits. As swordfish populations were declining, fishermen only achieved average catches of 8.1 individual fishes per fishing operation and only 0.8 individuals per km of net set. It was obvious that the legal nets of 2.5 kilometres would not produce economically viable catches.

Many fishermen, although using illegally long driftnets, already complain about the poor profitability of the activity. Al Hoceima fishermen interviewed by the researchers therefore said they "would be favourable to a complete transition toward other fisheries, abandoning driftnets, should public funds be available to support that."

The team emphasised that "the necessary change in the fishing gear by the concerned fleet" should be made taking into account socio-economic and environmental factors. "Any restructuring towards another fi

Dritftnet fishing vessel approaching Al Hoceima.
«The Mediterranean Sea's most lethal fleet.»

All photos by Association AZIR (Al Hoceima)

© Association AZIR (Maroc)
shery or fishing gear should preserve these features of small to medium scale nature of the fleet and labour intensive activity, to avoid the risk to result in a social disruption."

Based on the report, WWF concludes that "the Moroccan driftnet fleet is the most lethal for Mediterranean marine biodiversity." The conservation group however stresses that also Italian, French, Turkish and most probably other fishing fleets were using driftnets in breach of existing legislation.

The Italian driftnet fleet - with about 700 boats in the early 1990's - received subsidies from the EU for restructuring the fleet, but there are still up to 100 non-compliant boats. France (75 non-compliant boats), and Turkey (100) also have a sizeable driftnet fleet.

- The evidence we have gathered on the Moroccan fleet brings us to think that illegal driftnet fishing currently happening in the whole Mediterranean results in a massive slaughter of vulnerable species, commented WWF's Paolo Guglielmi. "More than 4,000 kilometres of illegal nets from the Moroccan, French, Turkish and Italian driftnet fleets are ensnaring all that gets in their way," he added.

WWF urged the EU to monitor and prosecute all the fleets of its member states using driftnets. The group further called non-EU countries, particularly those in North Africa, to introduce urgent legislation banning these nets. This call comes ahead of the Diplomatic Conference on Mediterranean Fisheries, to be held in Venice on 25 November.

- The only valid way to prevent the massacre of dolphins, sharks and other marine species caused by these driftnet fleets in the Mediterranean is to make it a driftnet-free sea by enforcing a total ban on all the driftnet fisheries in the region, said Simon Cripps, Director of the Endangered Seas Programme. "The EU must urgently help all Mediterranean countries put in place plans to convert their driftnet fleets."

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