Sea Shepherd retrieves illegal “spadara” driftnet on Operation Siso

Mittwoch, 03 Jul, 2019

Working with local Italian authorities including the National Fisheries Control Center (CCNP) of the General Command of the Corpo di Capitaneria and the Salina Coast Guard, the abandoned fishing net was identified and raised aboard the M/Y Sam Simon for inspection as part of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Siso. Five swordfish and a 2-meter long shark were found trapped and dead in the spadara, which is a type of fishing driftnet still widely used in Italian waters despite being banned worldwide in 2003. Floating at sea indefinitely, abandoned nets such as spadare can continue killing countless sperm whales, turtles, tuna, swordfish, sharks and marine mammals year after year. Commentary by Captain Thomas Le Coz.

Deckhands onboard the Sam Simon retrieve the abandoned driftnet. Photo by Flavio Gasperini/Sea Shepherd. (scroll right for more photos)
A dead swordfish trapped in the driftnet. Photo by Flavio Gasperini/Sea Shepherd.
A dead shark found dead in the driftnet. Photo by Flavio Gasperini/Sea Shepherd.
Swordfish swords pulled from the driftnet. Photo by Flavio Gasperini/Sea Shepherd.
The Sam Simon's crane pulling up the driftnet. Photo by Flavio Gasperini/Sea Shepherd.

This is the 3rd time the M/Y Sam Simon comes to the beautiful region of the Aeolian Islands.

Back in September 2017, limited by time and budget, we did a short trip to the Aeolian Islands to discover the area and understand the threats faced by this rich and diverse ecosystem. We started working with the Coast Guard and Guardia di Finanza, and were allowed to retrieve about 40 illegal Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) which were littering the crystal clear waters surrounding the Aeolian Islands and causing a threat to marine wildlife.

This campaign was a great opportunity to meet locals and build up relationships with all the people involved in the preservation of the area.

In October 2018 we came back to once again confiscate illegal FADs. From sunrise to sunset the crew of the Sam Simon worked in shifts to retrieve as many FADs as possible and bring them back to shore for proper disposal. This was a collaborative campaign with the Aeolian Preservation Fund.

FADs encountered in the Aeolian Islands are quite different from the ones we find in other parts of the world. Usually, despite their simple appearance, FADs are actually high tech fishing devices which, when equipped with a satellite transponder, can send a multitude of information to the owner vessel, including the quantity of fish underneath. These FADs drift for weeks, all over the oceans, and put many marine species at risk of entanglement. Many of them are lost and wash up on beaches and reefs, creating pollution and damaging coral.

But in the Aeolian Islands they a lot more basic. FADs are anchored to the bottom in 1500 to 2000m of water and are composed of palm leaves and a couple of floats made up of plastic bottles or barrels. These FADs are “single use”, which means that at the end of the season the fishermen don’t bother picking them up, creating even more plastic pollution in an already highly polluted Mediterranean Sea. It’s sad to realise that hundreds of kilometres of sunken nylon lines from these old FADs are covering the bottom of the ocean, especially in the pristine-looking waters of the Aeolian Islands, and slowly degrade into microplastics then making their way up the food chain.

June is not the season for FADs, so this year we are focusing on an even deadlier piece of fishing equipment: drift nets, in particular ‘’spadare’’.

Finding and identifying the fishing boats using spadaras is not easy task. Fishermen who decide to be on the wrong side of the law are very creative and find any possible subterfuge to cover up their illegal activity. It takes time, patience and a little bit of luck to understand how they operate and catch them. That’s the purpose of Operation Siso 2. We know illegal nets are being used in the area because we came across abandoned ones (ghost nets) that continue killing animals. Hundreds of cetaceans and turtles endure a slow and painful death in these nets every year. They are the collateral victims of an unsustainable fishing technic that has been banned all over Europe for nearly two decades. Millions of euros have been given to drift nets fishermen since the early 2000s to convert or retire their boats, yet 20 years later the problem still persists.

We are lucky to have the support of the authorities, local conservation groups and even some fishermen. Only with this collaborative approach can we tackle this issue.

It’s a long and difficult battle we are in, but definitely one worth fighting for. We are committed to do everything we can to protect the stunning beauty of the Aeolian Islands and the wildlife of the Mediterranean Sea.

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