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Illegal driftnets continue to kill thousands of dolphins, says WWF report

Washington, D.C. - World Wildlife Fund (WWF) today warned that illegal driftnets are still killing thousands of dolphins - and other vulnerable species - every year in the Mediterranean, despite the European Union's ban on driftnet fishing from 1 January 2002, and UN moratorium on large scale driftnets from 1992.

A new WWF report, Biodiversity impact of the Moroccan drifnet fleet in the Alboran Sea, reveals that, with 177 boats, the Moroccan driftnet fleet is the most lethal for Mediterranean marine biodiversity. Dolphins are its prime bycatch victims. Between 3,000 and 4,000 striped and short-beaked common dolphins, a species that was recently included on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, are estimated to be caught every year in the Alboran Sea, in the Southwestern Mediterranean, alone. This is more than 10 percent of the area's dolphin population. According to WWF, a further 13,000 individuals are estimated to be caught around the Straits of Gibraltar and in neighbouring zones. The conservation organization stresses that Italian, French, Turkish and most probably other fishing fleets are using driftnets in breach of existing legislation.

The Italian driftnet fleet - with about 700 boats in the early 1990's - received subsidies from the EU for restructuring the fleet, but there are still up to 100 non-compliant boats. France (75 non-compliant boats), and Turkey (100) also have a sizeable driftnet fleet.

"The evidence we have gathered on the Moroccan fleet brings us to think that illegal driftnet fishing currently happening in the whole Mediterranean results in a massive slaughter of vulnerable species," said Paolo Guglielmi, Head of Marine Unit at the WWF Mediterranean Programme. "Nearly 2,500 miles of illegal nets from the Moroccan, French, Turkish and Italian drifnet fleets are ensnaring all that gets in their way."

Driftnets run for miles. Each net could be anywhere between 4 and 9 miles long. According to the WWF report, about 23,000 sharks are also captured annually by the Moroccan driftnet fleet in the Alboran Sea, and another 77,500 are caught in the neighbouring areas. It has been calculated that one shark is caught for two swordfish, the main catch of the Moroccan fleet. Loggerhead turtles are also affected by the country's driftnet fisheries.

WWF urges the EU to monitor and prosecute all the fleets of its member states using driftnets. WWF also calls on the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, and non-EU countries, particularly those in North Africa, to introduce urgent legislation banning these nets. This call comes ahead of the Diplomatic Conference on Mediterranean Fisheries, to be held in Venice on 25 November.

"The only valid way to prevent the massacre of dolphins, sharks and other marine species caused by these driftnet fleets in the Mediterranean is to make it a driftnet-free sea by enforcing a total ban on all the drifnet fisheries in the region," said Scott Burns, director of the WWF-US Marine Conservation Program. "The EU must urgently help all Mediterranean countries put in place plans to convert their driftnet fleets."