The strange case of the non-existent trawling stop

The strange case of the non-existent trawling stop

The protest of the fishermen and Coldiretti against the stop to trawling, proposed by the European Union starting from 2030, risks creating serious misunderstandings and needs clarification. Let's start from an irrefutable scientific fact: there is less and less fish in the world.

Since the mid-1990s, the global fishing has declined by one million tonnes a year despite the development of increasingly advanced technologies.

The Mediterranean is the most fished sea in the world with 70% of species overexploited and a sharply declining yield. Suffice it to say that until 1985 almost 400,000 tons of fish were landed a year, while in the last decade it has not reached 200,000 tons (Source: ISTAT data). There trawl fishing, which collects just over a third of the catch, is notoriously among the most destructive for marine ecosystems because it causes a sort of plowing of the seabed. The nets collect and destroy the organisms that populate the seabed, even those that create underwater animal forests and host the eggs of many fish species but with no commercial interest. These organisms form the "fishing waste" which can reach up to 80% of the catches for trawling. In the Adriatic, some portions of the seabed are plowed up to three times a year. Some imaginative spokesmen of the fishing world also claim that trawling would be beneficial because it would "oxygenate the seabed". But is not so: scientific data say that trawling is unfortunately the main reason for the decline of the catch and damage to ecosystems.

First of all, it is the fishermen who pay the price, who find it increasingly difficult to repay the costs, and the consumers who have to buy ever more expensive fish. The FEAMPA report on the state of fishing produced in 2022 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forests (formerly MIPAF) reports: "In the absence of such regulatory interventions, the risk of environmental crises linked to the overexploitation of marine biological resources and with them the consequent crisis of the sector in the near future."

And now let's go back to the story of these days: on 21 February 2023, the European Union to respond to these problems proposes to intervene by blocking bottom trawling starting from 2030 but only and exclusively within marine protected areas and in deep ecosystems vulnerable (such as seamounts) that are not affected by Italian fisheries. This localized blockade has been proposed to repopulate the seas and increase future fishing yields. So in favor of the industry. Why then does alarmism spread about a block on fishing and damage to the economy? In reality, the damage to the fishing sector deriving from the application of this legislation would in fact be zero. There would not be a single more hectare of sea prohibited in the entire Adriatic area. On the contrary, fishing yields should increase over time due to theprotection effect.

We already have virtuous examples also in Italy in this sense: the creation of a restricted area for fishing in the Pomo pit, between the Italian and Croatian coasts, has allowed a rapid recovery of the hake populations which today are fished more than they used to be in 2016. The fishermen of Porto Cesareo and Torre Guaceto have seen their catches increase thanks to the marine protected areas. Claiming that the protection of the sea goes against fishing is completely false, as fishing cooperatives around the world can confirm.

Furthermore, the only area where trawling takes place within a protected marine area would be zone D of the Egadi park between the islands of Favignana and Levanzo and the island of Marettimo. So why did the fishermen of San Benedetto del Tronto or the Ligurian ones who certainly don't go to Sicily to fish protest? It could be objected that the damage, for now practically nil, could occur in 2030 when marine protected areas will extend to 30% of the surface of our seas. For now, this goal appears unlikely. In fact, the protected areas and sites of the Natura 2000 network (the most ecologically valuable ones) cover just over 11% of Italian territorial waters. Furthermore, all the retrieval areas envisaged for future protected areas are coastal, mostly within a depth of 50 meters and therefore already excluded from trawling. Some examples: Maddalena Archipelago and Tuscan Archipelago, Monte Conero Coast, Piceno Coast, the islands of Capri, Gallinara, Pantelleria, San Pietro, the Aeolian and Pontine Islands. Therefore, our fishermen will be able to continue fishing and will be able to do it successfully even if marine protected areas are extended in 2030.

Coldiretti's fear is that the new rules valid only for European fishermen could disadvantage us in favor of Tunisia or ofEgypt who can fish without rules and limits. But this problem could be solved by following the model we now use in the automotive sector. We can only import cars with certain standards (such as Euro6): well, we could limit the import of fish only to products with the same requirements as in Europe. Data relating to fisheries over the last 40 years indicate that if the fishing sector continues in this way, and in particular that of trawling, it will have no future. Red mullet, hake, sole, Norway lobster, red shrimp and purple shrimp are not threatened by the European Union but by overfishing. Solutions have to be found.

The one proposed by the EU with the blocking of trawling in protected areas is necessary, indeed indispensable, to repopulate our seas. But she's not the only one. A second solution is to always steer the sector towards integrated and sustainable aquaculture, based on invertebrates starting from mussels, oysters and other bivalves. A third solution is to direct the sector towards small-scale artisanal fishing, which is more sustainable and capable of creating more jobs. A fourth solution is to direct fishing towards alien and invasive species, such as the blue crab, which is excellent to eat and an enemy of our ecosystems. Finally, you can reduce the diesel consumption and reduce climate impacts with hybrid or electric motors. These are all measures financed by the European Union and are certainly better than an increase in fishing effort, just don't miss the opportunity because it would be truly absurd.

*Roberto Danovaro is Director of the Department of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Polytechnic University of Marche

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