Ocean Life » Conservation » Sea Shepherd Removes Illegal Fishing Gear from Mediterranean Sea

Sea Shepherd Removes Illegal Fishing Gear from Mediterranean Sea

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Sea Shepherd, with support from the Aeolian Islands Preservation Fund, is protecting the Italian Mediterranean waters of the southern Tyrrhenian Sea through a direct-action campaign against illegal fishing: Operation SISO. Ten volunteer crew onboard a catamaran and RHIB – both equipped with a new hoisting system – were able to confiscate 20 illegal FADs (Fish Aggregating Devices) and 42km of polypropylene twine within the first 47 hours of their six-day undercover patrols around the Aeolian Islands.

Operation SISO is conducted in cooperation with the Naval Operations Department of the Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza Sezione Operativa Navale), the Milazzo’s Coast Guard, the much-welcomed collaboration of artisanal fishers, and the volunteer assistance by Orchestra Conductor Roberto Soldatini, who used his own sailboat to help locate illegal FADs during the first three days of the campaign.

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Blue shark rescued from an illegal driftnet on Operation Siso

It’s estimated that more than 10,000 FADs are anchored illegally every year, resulting in one of the biggest dumping of polluting plastics in Italian waters and in the consequent destruction of the precious deep seafloor.

Every FAD is made of 2000 meters of 3.5mm diameter polypropylene twine dropped into the sea, lethal to loggerhead turtles and other species that often get trapped by them during their migratory routes, and by hundreds of kilograms of plastic tanks and bottles, mostly containing residues of extremely polluting liquids,” says Andrea Morello, Operation SISO Campaign Leader. “Anchored with weights over 100kg at depths ranging between 600 and 300 meters, each illegal FAD destroys marine depths, the corals and the wildlife inhabiting them. Poachers use FADs as fish aggregators, catching every kind of life form in their vicinity without any distinction of minimum size or species, endangering the entire Mediterranean Sea’s biodiversity, while enriching the ‘pirates for profit’ who we fight to enforce the law.

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Bosun Molly as the crew retrieve an FAD 

“With Operation SISO, Sea Shepherd returns to defend the Mediterranean Sea, together with those who have made the sea their own home, like Roberto Soldatini with his spontaneous dedication and passion, donating his time to help marine conservation. Having him at our side was a real honor.

“In the world’s most overfished sea - 40% of the catch in the Aeolian archipelago area comes from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing - we are even more determined and efficient, thanks to the full cooperation of artisanal fishers from Lipari and Salina, who share our common goal of defending the sea and respecting legality.  I want to thank the Aeolian Islands Preservation Fund for having allowed us to travel these miles together, I am sure this will be the beginning of a long-lasting collaboration.”

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Sea Shepherd's The Sam Simon on the horizon

Operation SISO has the aim of protecting the delicate Aeolian ecosystem from IUU fishing, in particular, to show the world what is the reality about the use of FADs in the southern Tyrrhenian Sea. Locally known as ‘cannizzi’, these FADs damage the life in the Mediterranean as well as the local legal fishing. The Aeolian Islands archipelago management plan regulates the use of the cannizzi, with strict rules about where, when, and how they can be used to mitigate destruction of the environment and vulnerable non-target species. Any FAD without identification has a complete lack of traceability and therefore means they count as IUU fishing gear.

“Three years ago we invited Sea Shepherd to join us in the mission to preserve the Aeolians. We are happy to carry on the mission again and to keep protecting our sea from illegal activities, in defense of biodiversity and small-scale local fishing,” added Luca Del Bono, Aeolian Islands Preservation Fund Chairman. “An important recognition also goes out to Smile Wave, Swiss foundation supporting the projects of both Sea Shepherd and the Aeolian Islands Preservation Fund.”

The operation was named after Siso, a young sperm whale who died in 2017 after he became trapped into an illegal “spadara” net (a type of net to catch swordfish) during his passage among the Aeolian Islands. The heroic attempt to free him saw the Guardia Costiera engaged for many hours, but that was not enough. Siso was found dead along the coast of Capo Milazzo by marine biologist Carmelo Isgrò, who conserved his skeleton, keeping the net which caused his death and the plastic waste found inside his stomach, as a warning for future generations. “Siso” was the nickname of a friend of Carmelo who helped him retrieve the sperm whale’s body and died in a car accident a few days afterward.

Images: Flavio Gasperini/Sea Shepherd

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