Is the swordfish in danger?

Genoa - ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, raised the alarm: in the Mediterranean, the swordfish is overfished, and the swordfish catch must be limited. “We are very worried about the future of the Mediterranean swordfish,” says Giuseppe di Carlo

di Giuliano Gnecco

Genoa - ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, raised the alarm: in the Mediterranean, the swordfish is overfished, and the swordfish catch must be limited. “We are very worried about the future of the Mediterranean swordfish,” Giuseppe di Carlo, director of the WWF’s Mediterranean Marine Initiative, said, “There’s no time to lose. Immediate measures must be taken to reverse the decline in the stock.” Oceana, an organisation dedicated to the conservation of the oceans, is also in support, calling for an emergency plan and pointing out that “the swordfish population has decreased by over 70% in over 30 years of overfishing and political dawdling.”

The Euro-bureaucrats aren’t taking the time to read the ICCAT’s documentation (the dossier is yet to arrive), and are already rolling up their sleeves: the European Commission will soon introduce an emergency plan to protect and renew the stock of swordfish in the Mediterranean, as was done for the Bluefin tuna. Commissioner for the Environment and Fisheries Karmenu Vella disclosed the plan. It commendably calls for its rapid execution.

So much so, in fact, that some are suspicious: “The swordfish population is abundant and not in danger,” swears Stefano Briola, a swordfish fisherman in Portofino, “and it is the hake that is truly overfished. But in this case I haven’t heard any calls or alarms, and they can be found frozen in all the supermarkets.” Why is this? Briola is not afraid to talk about conspiracies: “The hake is imported from who-knows-where by big international companies, they want to do the same thing with the swordfish, which is more profitable. But, they have already taken whitebait fishing away from us, if they stop us from fishing the swordfish, only anchovies will remain. And at this rate in 10 years there will be no more professional or amateur fishermen as we traditionally think of them. It will all be in the hands of big companies, with a loss of culture, tourist resources and quality.”

Briola offers an example: “With the price of tuna, for example, they eliminated tuna fishing from Camogli, where it had existed since 1300; their view is purely economic. And the organisations that do the research are financed by big companies.” That is a conspiracy! But Briola is not the only one who thinks so: “I share his opinion,” Daniela Borriello from Coldiretti Impresapesca admits, “It will end up like tuna, which we can no longer fish here, although they break the anchovy fishermen’s nets. And the tuna that was in the Ligurian Sea comes to our tables fished abroad by big companies.”

Augusto Comes, a fisherman in Sestri Levante and the president of Federcoopesca, expresses himself more cautiously, although he gives the impression that his position is not too far from those of his colleagues: “In fact, we are all on the same side, and we must fight for our fishing resources. Of course 95% of Italian fishing boats do not go beyond the 40 mile limit, while there are large fishing boats, especially Asian ones, that go all around the world and even come to our seas, and we cannot intervene in open waters. ICCAT is also against whaling, but the Japanese do it anyway because it is in their economic interest. And the source of the financing could also influence the research.” And then there is the regulatory and bureaucratic situation, which is ever stricter in the fishing sector. What’s more, the laws are constantly changing, which forces fishermen to become legal experts. If they make mistakes, the fines start at €70,000, with a ban on going out to sea for three months.

Briola adds: “The boats and the equipment have very high costs, even just to maintain them. When fishing with the drift-net system was banned, which was invasive, and was replaced by long-line fishing, every company received 180,000,000 lire for the conversion, plus additional amounts for each fisherman. Now they want us to change and spend huge amounts of our own money.” Of course the multinationals have no problem converting their vessels. It’s globalisation.

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