On July 10 an EU regulation entered into force, obliging member states, Italy in particular, to stop fishing in three crucial marine conservation areas in the Mediterranean. Until now, ships had been free to plunder the areas, with the consent of the European Commission.
The EU regulation, transposed into Italian law by decree of the Ministry of Agriculture, puts an end, at least on paper, to the decimation of shrimp and cod in their reproductive areas in the Strait of Sicily. However, it also hurts the fishing communities of Sicily’s southern coastline who earn their living from the now protected areas.
Bottom trawlers have been outlawed within a space of 1700 km2 (almost one and a half times the area of Rome), which includes the muddy banks of Mazara del Vallo and Sciacca, but also the more remote, less travelled area around Capo Passero (the south-east tip of the island).
The three reserves were established in 2016 after recommendations from the General Fisheries Commission for The Mediterranean (GFCM), an agency of the FAO responsible for the sustainable use of marine resources. All the countries on the northern and southern Mediterranean shores are member countries, including Italy, Tunisia and Malta. For years, these countries have competed over portions of the sea containing record quantities of aquatic delicacies, all of which are threatened by the overfishing of newborns with no time to reproduce.
Map of the three protected marine areas established by the GFCM in the Strait of Sicily
Green area “East of Adventure Bank” – Essential fish habitat for hake (16.1 km from the Sicilian coast)
Purple area “West of Gela basin” – Essential fish habitat for rose shrimp (1.9 km from the Sicilian coast)
Yellow area “East of Malta bank” – Essential fish habitat for hake (47.6 km from the Sicilian coast)
Each area is surrounded by a 1km-wide buffer zone accessible only to registered fishing boats
Thus far, the three countries have violated the decision of the GFCM, allowing their fleets to fish with impunity in the three areas. Italy, the country with the strongest economic interest in the areas, has long been among those accused by environmentalists of having ignored its obligations. It’s no accident that in the management plans negotiated with the European Commission in 2018, the Italian government left the closure of the Mazara and Sciacca areas unfinished. These areas include Italian territorial waters. “Every year the two areas provide, on average, almost 40 tonnes of cod (4 percent of all Italian catches in the Strait) and 100 tonnes of deep-water rose shrimp (1 percent)”, declares Domenico Asaro, shipowner and representative of Federpesca in Mazara. “Yesterday the port authority told us we can no longer go there, so we’re facing annual losses of 40-50 thousand euro for fishing vessels”.