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Good news from Mediterranean fisheries. The shift towards sustainable fisheries has finally started and we are enjoying the first results.
After years, the FAO has certified that the Mediterranean is no longer the most overfished sea in the world. We are now second, but it is still an important signal. The latest report on “The State of Mediterranean and Black Sea Fisheries" released by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean and Black Sea (GFCM-FAO) confirms that overfishing has decreased substantially. It also unfortunately confirms that the exploitation of most commercial species is still not sustainable, with 73% of commercial species overfished. An impressive decrease in fishing pressure is taking place, particularly on overfished species such as hake (- 39%) and Adriatic sole (-75%). Moreover, several fish stocks are already showing signs of biomass recovery.
Clearly, much remains to be done, but this trend is positive and promising.
These results are the consequence of better managed stocks. Since 2016, the process of improving management has been unstoppable. Each year the GFCM has adopted new technical measures, long-term management plans, and established Fisheries Restricted Areas, as well as created the context for the participation of all riparian countries, who now agree that the priority is to manage shared stocks according to scientific advice.
The 45th GFCM commission, held in Tirana in November this year, also confirmed this intent. WWF was there and witnessed the adoption of 21 decisions aimed at strongly contributing to stock recovery. Specifically, a new fishing ban on the critically endangered European eel was adopted. WWF was also particularly supportive of the new measures adopted to combat IUU fishing, prohibiting transshipment at sea and better regulating transshipment operations between countries.
WWF contributed to the development of those measures that are securing the long-term management of some of the most commercially valuable and overexploited fish stocks in the Mediterranean. As the year 2022 celebrated the International Year for artisanal fisheries (IYAFA), the GFCM Commission renewed its commitment to the Regional Plan of Action for Small Scale Fisheries (RPOA-SSF). This was in response to the clear request by the SSF sector that came out at the SSF Summit hosted by FAO and WWF last September and the Friends of SSF Platform and Forum. Mediterranean countries and the EU have reconfirmed their commitment to boost the implementation of measures and investments in favor of small-scale fisheries, especially by giving fishers a role in the decisions that affect their livelihoods. WWF works with small-scale fishers to pilot new approaches that can successfully transform the sector towards a more sustainable use of marine resources.
Good news also for tuna fisheries and sharks. During its annual meeting, ICCAT (the Commission responsible for fisheries of tuna and other pelagic species in the Atlantic and Mediterranean) adopted a long-awaited harvest strategy for bluefin tuna. This historical decision resulted from the effective implementation of a recovery plan implemented since 2009, when tuna stocks almost collapsed. With the new harvest strategy, science-based data will indicate the level of yearly sustainable catches and will shift ICCAT to long-term sustainable fishery.
After long debates, we now have a ban on retaining live shortfin mako sharks in the South Atlantic for the next two years. This measure aims to reduce the total mortality down to 53% from the 2020 level, and complement the already implemented rebuilding plan for the North Atlantic population, covering the whole Atlantic Ocean.
We conclude this list of positive ocean news with the angel shark, a species once believed extinct in the Adriatic that is now making a comeback. After an intense few years spent in identifying key areas for the critically endangered angel sharks and engaging with fishers and other stakeholders, some fishers now actively communicate about the release of the species once it’s caught as a bycatch and share their experience in regional GFCM Fora. WWF was successful in collecting eDNA samples of angel sharks around Molat Island in Croatia, a first in the Mediterranean, further supporting a proposed Fisheries restricted area. This local success could be replicated across the Mediterranean to minimize shark mortalities from fishing.
In 2023, our work for the transformation of Mediterranean fisheries towards sustainability will continue. We will work on the ground, with fishers, national administrations, the European Commission and the GFCM. Our main objectives for 2023 will include the closure of longline fishing for two months a year to protect swordfish juveniles, increased controls to eliminate illegal driftnetting in the Alboran Sea and to avoid illegal discards, transshipment, black-marketing of undersize target species in the Strait of Sicily and finally a ban on shark and ray fishing by small-scale fishers in Tunisia.