EU bans "wall of death" drift-nets

Environmentalists welcome "historic decision" despite exemption for Baltic Sea

Drift-nets used in tuna fishing will be banned from most EU waters by the year 2002. A majority of EU fisheries ministers voted for a general ban at a meeting last night in Luxembourg. France and Ireland voted against, and Italy abstained. It is the first time the EU has outlawed any type of fishing gear.

Banning the so-called "wall of death" drift-nets is intended to end the killing of thousands of sea mammals each year, including dolphins, whales and turtles as by-catches of fishing. The ban will cover most EU waters and will apply to EU-registered vessels fishing outside those waters. It will not cover the Baltic Sea, where the by-catch of drift-nets used to fish salmon and trout is said to be much smaller. During the first year of the phase-out period member states are required to cut their drift-net fleet by 40%.

The European Commission first proposed the ban in 1994, following several UN resolutions calling for global prohibition. Progress became visible earlier this year (ENDS Daily 25 March) and the Baltic exception clause secured the Scandinavian vote. Italy, which has a drift-net fleet of several hundred, will be hardest hit by the ban. France, Ireland and the UK will also be significantly affected.

Environmental groups have been campaigning for a global drift-net ban for the last 15 years. Greenpeace International today welcomed last night's conclusion as "a historic decision". It said EU fisheries ministers "have finally seen sense and acknowledged the devastation caused to marine wildlife by drift-nets". Although the EU limited the length of drift-nets to 2.5km in 1992, environmentalists claim that this was not respected and that some fishermen used nets of up to 20km.

A Greenpeace spokesperson even shed a positive light on Italy's abstention, saying it was a step forward from a country which had always strongly opposed the ban.

Fishermen in France, Ireland and the UK are less happy. According to press reports, they have complained that the ban will grant a monopoly to the Spanish fleet for tuna fishing for which they switched away from drift-nets to lines and poles some time ago. As part of yesterday's decision, ministers agreed to provide aid to affected fishing communities.

Follow Up:
Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111; Greenpeace Brussels, tel: +32 2 280 1400.

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