NOAA 99-22
Contact: Scott Smullen


The U.S. Commerce Department today identified Italy as a nation whose fishing vessels may be conducting high sea, large-scale driftnet fishing in violation of the High Seas Driftnet Fisheries Enforcement Act. Large-scale high seas driftnets are defined as being greater than or equal to 2.5 kilometers or 1.5 miles in length. The United Nations moratorium on use of large-scale driftnets began in January 1993. Italy was similarly identified by the department in March 1996.

"We are very confident that the Italians will move to remedy the situation," said U.S. Commerce Secretary William M. Daley. "We are encouraged to note that Italy has just completed a three-year, multi-million dollar driftnet vessel conversion program that has taken more than 500 driftnet vessels off the water, 80 percent of their driftnet fleet. To date, the program has scrapped nearly 70 driftnet vessels, converted more than 300 vessels to other types of fishing gear, and is in the process of converting the remainder."

Commerce officials are optimistic that arrangements can be reached with the Italian government that will improve measures to ensure Italian fishermen comply with the ban on large-scale driftnets in commercial fishing on the high seas. In addition, the European Union is phasing out the use of all driftnets, regardless of size, by 2002.

"Already our contact with the Italian government on this issue has been positive and constructive," said Terry Garcia, the U.S. Commerce Department's assistant secretary for oceans and atmosphere. "We feel the Italians can end any large-scale driftnet fishing on the high seas practiced within their fishing fleet by strengthening existing regulations and improving enforcement of the rules. In the near future, we should be able to reach a solution that will be agreeable to both parties."

The Commerce Department action carried out the order of the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York to identify Italy as a nation for which there is reason to believe its fishermen or vessels are violating the ban on large-scale driftnets used in commercial fishing operations.

According to the act, the two nations have 30 days to commence consultations and 90 days to conclude them before Italy may become vulnerable to trade restrictions.