The Malta Independent, 20th June 2008, by David Lindsay –
International marine conservation group Oceana yesterday reported it had collected evidence that Italian, Turkish, Tunisian and Libyan vessels continue to fish tuna with purse seine nets despite the season having been closed prematurely by the European Commission.

In a statement issued yesterday, the group said that as part of its blue fin tuna protection campaign, members are currently aboard the Marviva Med research vessel to the southwest of Malta documenting the activities of fishing fleets operating south of Malta.

The group says it has collected evidence that vessels of three different nationalities were operating illegally just 20 miles to the south of Malta on the day the EU ban purse seine ban became effective – most of which the group said were linked to the Italian commercial tuna industry.

The European Commission last Thursday announced the season’s early closing effective from 16 June – some two weeks earlier than the previously established 30 June closing date.

The group said yesterday it had recorded two former Italian pursed seiners currently flying the Libyan flag fishing when Oceana’s vessel reached the area.

The vessels, the group reports, were assisted by two industrial Italian purse seiners during the entire operation, as well as by a Tunisian vessel.

The same vessels, according to Oceana, have been operating in close collaboration with a Turkish support vessel, which was hauling a collapsible cage and providing supplies to Italian tuna-fattening farms.

Xavier Pastor, Oceana Europe executive director and head of the campaign on board the Marviva Med, commented yesterday, “The presence of Italian tuna purse seiners sheds evident doubts on Italy’s compliance with the fishing prohibition. Furthermore, it is obvious that third-country fleets continue fishing for EU vessels in favour of European companies.”

Oceana pointed out how fleets from third countries, such as from Libya or Turkey, are mainly comprised of EU vessels that have been transferred to other companies in order to avoid the control measures implemented in the EU.

As such, the group said, Libyan vessels could frequently be found in French ports such as Sete, and Turkish vessels can be found operating in Italian tuna-fattening farms.

Mr Pastor added, “The closing of the fishery does not signal the end of the blue fin tuna catches. The laws continue to be disregarded and mocked. Hundreds of vessels continue fishing, the fattening farms continue receiving catches and the companies that supposedly should have concluded their activities continue obtaining profits while pushing the fishery to the limits of collapse.

“The anticipated end of the activity, two weeks early, for EU vessels is neither enough, nor real.

“The blue fin tuna fishery must be urgently and completely closed until the stocks can recover, and the implementation of this decision must be effectively monitored.”