EU officials see swordfish population in danger

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Illegal fishing in the Mediterranean Sea is claiming two tons of swordfish per boat per day and could lead to the collapse of the population in three years.

According to an internal report by European Union fishery inspectors, a “rampant lack of controls” is allowing fishing boats to illegally take huge quantities of the species from waters off the Italian coast.

The detailed investigation, conducted in March 2013 and obtained under a freedom of information request by The Guardian, found poor enforcement of fishing season closings by local authorities in southern Italy, with very few landing inspections of the active fleet.

Swordfish catches were often authorized by officials after the season’s close and swordfish meat was visibly on sale in local shops and markets and easily available in local restaurants.

“Control measures in place to monitor the respect of the swordfish fisheries closure are clearly inadequate,” The Guardian cited the report as saying. “Sanctions for selling Mediterranean swordfish during the closed fishing season, particularly where they were under-sized, demonstrated a lack of enforcement and discouragement.”

The conservation group Oceana, which obtained the internal EU paper, estimates that swordfish stocks in the Mediterranean are 70 percent below sustainable levels. But there is no stock management strategy for replenishing the swordfish population, which is threatened by a fleet of 12,000 vessels, nearly 90 percent of which are EU-flagged.

Fishing for swordfish in the Mediterranean during the closed seasons of March, October and November contravenes a legally binding international measure established in 2011 by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.

But the EU report found that the very illegality of fishing out of season allowed the swordfish to retail at inflated prices of as much as 30 euros per kilo, making it a highly lucrative trade.

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