Italy’s deadly driftnets are back. The illegal use of the destructive nets, thought to have ended on a larger scale thanks to recent measures taken by the EU and Italy, has again been exposed with fresh evidence emerging of their deployment.

Citizen Inspectors of FishAct, who are currently on deployment to investigate other forms of illegal fishing in the country, were surprised to find evidence of widespread use of the illegal nets. Fishermen, exploiting a new legal loophole, are now openly setting the nets at sea again.

Dubbed the ‘curtains of death’, driftnet form an impenetrable wall in the ocean and while targeting tuna and swordfish, are instead the cause of thousands of cetacean, turtle and shark deaths annually, in the Mediterranean alone. Outlawed by the United Nations in 1992, the use of the nets are strictly regulated in the EU, yet compliance has been a contentious issue for decades.

Samantha Hook of FishAct: “At least ten different laws were introduced in the last decade that prohibit the use of driftnets but to no avail. The deadly nets are back. Throughout the last two weeks, as we have carried out inspections in ports across Southern Italy, it has become painstakingly clear that fishers are exploiting a new legal loophole and are once again causing havoc for marine life across the region. We call on EU policy makers to take urgent action and ensure this new loophole is closed before the start of next year’s fishing season.”

Fishers have added metal rings to their nets, arguing that the illegal driftnets on their vessels are instead surrounding nets, used to catch smaller species.

Hook: “The international regulations are vague as to what exactly constitutes a surrounding net and fishers are cleverly exploiting this to their advantage. The mesh sizes of the driftnets are far too large to ever catch any smaller fish as surrounding nets do yet the law is obviously not clear enough on this.”

FishAct has presented the fresh evidence to the European Commission and US authorities in a bid to push for further sanctions over Italy’s continued disregards for international law concerning the illegal fishing gear. A publicly available report with the latest evidence will be published once FishAct’s field investigations in Italy have ended.

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