Over the last three months FishAct’s Citizen Inspectors have assisted enforcement officials in Southern Italy with surveillance to seek out illegal trade in juvenile anchovy, which are heavily overfished in the Mediterranean region.

Throughout the fishing season, which started in February, Citizen Inspectors have inspected fishing ports and markets in the north eastern region of Sicily, during which a number of illegal catches were observed. Through effective cooperation with the authorities different quantities of illegal fish were confiscated and the traders now face prosecution.

Small pelagic fish species inhabit vast areas of the global oceans and form a crucial part of marine ecosystems. In the Mediterranean Sea two important such species are anchovies (Engraulis encrasicolus) and sardines (Sardina pilchardus), which together constitute more than a third of the total catch of the Italian fishing fleet. Several purpose-built fishing fleets in the world target anchovy and sardines specifically and catch and process huge quantities of the fish annually.

Samantha Hook of FishAct: “The value for such fisheries isn’t necessarily in the individual fish themselves, it is the sheer industrial size of the vessels that can catch such huge quantities that it becomes profitable. It is this type of mega fishing that is central to driving the continual over-exploitation of our oceans.”

Known as neonata (newborn), juvenile fish are a delicacy in Italy where many regions have their traditional dishes prepared from the larval fish. The small fish are so young they have often hatched less than 24 hours previously. For both anchovy and sardine, which as species have experienced high levels of overfishing in the Mediterranean over recent decades, this form of illegal harvesting of the larval fish is catastrophic for the populations, which have little chance to reproduce.

Local coastguard officials in Southern Italy have been struggling to keep up with the scale of illegal landings of the juvenile fish and have called on the Citizen Inspectors to assist with additional enforcement capacity.

Carlo Giannetto, one of the inspectors working for FishAct in the region explains: “This catching of baby fish is a really important issue for the entire balance of the Mediterranean Sea ecosystem, which is why this issue of juvenile fishing is one of the priorities for FishAct’s work here. I have carried out many inspections now with fellow Citizen Inspectors and we keep uncovering illegal catches all the time.”

FishAct’s direct collaboration with the Italian Coastguard puts it in a very powerful position to train ordinary people in assisting in observation of fishing practices and assisting in obtaining effective enforcement results including confiscations and prosecutions where illegal activity is found.

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