As soon as the illegal fishing activity of the Italian and French drift netters was documented during the months of June and July, the Oceana Ranger research catamaran headed towards the Alboran Sea in order to obtain information regarding the operations of the last of the three largest drift netting fleets operating illegally in the Mediterranean.
The Moroccan fleet is comprised of 150 vessels, equipped with the most modern technology as well as nets measuring up to 12 kilometres in length, and operates in the Southern Alboran Sea and the Gibraltar Strait.
These vessels are based mainly in the north African ports of Nador, Alhucemas and Tangiers. Measuring almost 15 meters in length and comprised of crews of between 8 to 14 men, these drift netters are capturing swordfish that are much smaller than the legally established length of 125 cm., and most of them have not even reached the reproductive maturity.
The average size of the swordfish captured in the Mediterranean has decreased tremendously from 48 kgs. during the decade of the eighties to 10 kg. in 1997, coinciding with the proliferation of drift nets in this sea.
The specimens caught by Moroccan drift netters documented by the Ranger this week are even smaller. This renewable resource is being pushed towards depletion.
Apart from contributing to the overexploitation of the targeted species, the swordfish, the Moroccan netters also cause the death of an enormous quantity of accidental captures, such as rays, sharks and moonfish – a species which, by the way, feeds on jellyfish.
The Moroccan fleet’s illegal nets also cause the death of thousands of cetaceans, such as dolphins, pilot whales, sperm whales and other species of cetaceans that get caught in the nets and drown, sometimes after an agonising struggle.
In 2003, a WWF report estimated that approximately 15,000 specimens of striped and common dolphins are accidentally caught each year, as well as 100,000 shark specimens.
In the last few days, the Verdemar-Ecologistas en Accion organisation in C