THE FAILURE TO PROTECT KEY NURSERY GROUNDS IN THE ADRIATIC. THE CASE OF THE JABUKA/POMO PIT

The Central Adriatic Jabuka/Pomo Pit is an area in which the combination of regional hydrography, low benthic biomass, and sedimentological factors provides the conditions to support a key nursery ground for commercial species subject to persistent overfishing such as hake, deep water rose shrimp and Norway lobster by the Italian and Croatian fishing fleets.

the-pit3
The Jabuka/Pomo Pit

Scientific advice to protect the Jabuka/Pomo Pit long went unheard. It was only in 1998 that Italy established a small no-take area, closed to all commercial and recreational fisheries. This area – defined as a Zone of Biological Protection (Zona di Tutela Biologica – ZTB) – was reopened to fisheries in 2003 and closed again in 2009. In 2011, the prohibition on trawling in the ZTB was reconfirmed in the Italian Management Plan for Demersal Fisheries in the Adriatic.

Despite these repeated rulings, fisheries continued undisturbed. The following maps indicate constant fishing activities in the ZTB (marked in black) by the Italian fishing fleet in the years 2012-2014.

vms-data

VMS from the Italian fleet in the Adriatic (R. Elahi, Stanford University)[1]

But beyond the ZTB, scientists from the FAO AdriaMed Project had long called for wider protection of the Jabuka/Pomo Pit.

In 2010 AdriaMed summarised over 50 years of investigations in the Jabuka/Pomo Pit, noting that:

  1. The exploitation pattern of hake and Norway lobster is far from optimal, meaning that with the same fishing effort, the quantity landed could be increased or alternatively the same landings could be obtained with less fishing effort. This exploitation pattern is the result of the unselectivity of the bottom trawl nets catching large amounts of juveniles and undersized hake, even when fully utilising the larger mesh size introduced by Council Regulation 1967/2006.
  2. The negative trends in demersal stock biomass over the past 20 years show that the resource is exploited at unsustainable levels.

AdriaMed examined long-term, spatial management options based on the fact that hake is a long-lived species therefore short-term fishing closures cannot be expected to produce substantial effects. Noway lobster is also a relatively long-lived species which, during the first year of its life, remains hidden in the burrows and cannot be taken by trawlers, therefore short temporal closures will be ineffective.

The scientists recommended an experimental three-year closure, to be reviewed on the basis of the results from annual monitoring. Several area sizes were presented as possible options to protected a larger or smaller portion of the nursery grounds.

It wasn’t until 2015 that the Italian and Croatian administrations jointly closed – initially for one year – a wider area of the Jabuka/Pomo Pit to towed gear, which included a part of the Italian ZTB.

Although this new no-trawl zone (marked in grey in the VMS maps above) only partly covered all the key nurseries, when complemented with a fully enforced ZTB, it would have offered an initial significant decree of protection if, as originally planned, the temporal closure was extended or made permanent.

However, just one year later the Italian government, under pressure from the trawling industry, retreated from its original plans and unilaterally reopened the area to trawlers, leaving only a very small portion closed to fisheries. In addition the ZTB was abolished and  although new measures were introduced to reduce fishing effort, the Pomo/Jabuka lost the level of protection required for the most important nursery grounds of the Adriatic and for the recovery of its depleted fish stocks.

MedReAct and the Adriactic Recovery Project are calling on Italy to reconsider its decision, resume the collaboration with Croatia on the Pomo/Jabuka Pit and ensure the permanent and wider protection of the area key nurseries and spawning grounds.

[1] Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) is a general term to describe systems that are used in commercial fishing to allow environmental and fisheries regulatory organizations to track and monitor the activities of fishing vessels.

Advertisements