At their annual meeting held on 4-8 November in Athens, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), a special body of the FAO uniting 24 countries north and south of the Mediterranean, is supposed to approve a new action plan for the Adriatic Sea. The document is still confidential, but our investigators have managed to take a peek. The aim of the plan is to combat the alarming fall in demersal fish stocks in the Adriatic. This sea, according to a 2018 study , is the most exploited in the world when it comes to deep sea trawling. According to FAO data , as a proportion of the whole Mediterranean basin, it is also one of the most productive fishing areas: from its waters a little under 200,000 tonnes of fish are landed annually, half of which by Italy.
The package on the negotiation table in Athens includes the following principal measures: reduction of fishing days, a two month ban each year near the coast, a ban on trawling within six nautical miles, a reduction of the minimum fishable size and therefore of net mesh size, and compulsory geolocation systems on all fishing vessels larger than twelve metres to facilitate coast guard checks.
The initial draft of the EU plan included the creation of the largest protected reserve in the Mediterranean: an area of 2,800 square kilometres (twice the area of Rome) located in the international waters of the Strait of Otranto, between Italy and Albania, twelve nautical miles (22 kilometres) from the Apulian coast. The area is rich in the most threatened and profitable species: deep-water rose shrimp and hake. According to a 2011 study , more than forty percent of the hake which lands on Italian dining tables comes from the Adriatic. Catches of hake in the entire Adriatic are twice its sustainability level, according to a 2017 study by the EU’s Scientific Committee for Fisheries.
Nevertheless, the Italian government has blocked the establishment of this marine sanctuary, judging it rushed, despite the restriction on trawling nets in its waters, agreed with the cooperatives and ship-owners of Monopoli and Mola di Bari. These are the two principal fleets operating in the area, with about forty vessels, docked in the harbours of Brindisi and Otranto respectively, and flanked by other vessels in Salento. The Italian veto also affects the smaller reserve in Bari Canyon.
The need for repopulation of fish stocks
The data shows that overfishing, especially trawling, compromises not only the Adriatic ecosystem’s biodiversity (which hosts almost fifty percent of all the Mediterranean marine species), but also the interests of fishers. Between 2004 and 2015, the vessels fishing for deep-water rose shrimp and hake along the eastern coast of Italy fell by 48 and 45 per cent respectively (even if deep-water rose shrimp numbers are currently recovering). Catches of hake and deep-water rose shrimp, in 2014, brought in 15 and 13.5 million euro respectively for Italian trawlers in the Adriatic. However, in the 200