The European Commission has proposed a full ban on driftnets over concerns of damage to wildlife and their habitats.
The EU already forbids the use of driftnets to catch certain migratory ‘pelagic’ fish, such as tuna or swordfish, that swim in the upper water column.
However, the use of such nets are still a cause for concern due to the damage they cause to marine ecosystems.
Many species of marine wildlife, such as turtles and dolphins, are accidentally caught alongside the intended catch. Conservationists refer to the driftnets as “walls of death”.
Maria Damanaki, European Commissioner for Maritime wildlife Affairs and Fisheries, stated, "Fishing with driftnets destroys marine habitats, endangers marine and threatens sustainable fisheries."
The Commission says that the small-scale nature of the fishing vessels, and the fact that they are dispersed over large areas, means that they can escape monitoring, control and enforcement of EU fishing rules.
“I am convinced that the only way to eradicate this once and for all is to have clear rules which leave no room for interpretation. We need to close any possible loopholes and simplify control and enforcement by national authorities,” Damanaki said.
Some 840 vessels are estimated to use driftnets in EU waters, excluding the Baltic Sea. The UN General Assembly has called on a moratorium on “large-scale pelagic driftnets”, defined as longer than 2.5 kilometres.
The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy intends to minimise the impact of fishing activities on the marine ecosystem, and to reduce unwanted catches. EU countries may use their portion of the European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) to support their move to a total ban on driftnetting, the Commission says.
The conservation organistion Oceana expressed concerns that the ban could harm small-scale “artisanal” fishing, in which the use of driftnets has not caused significant environmental damage.
In April 2013, the EU executive published a ‘roadmap’ reviewing EU rules on small-scale driftnet fisheries. It also carried out two studies and a public consultation as research into the sector, which included a review of its impact on prohibited or protected species.
The ban would come into force as of 1 January 2015, pending approval of the proposal by the European Parliament and EU member states.