Fishing in Italy is going through a dramatic upheaval caused by inadequate policies and by management measures which for decades have been based solely on economic profit, and which have gradually encouraged the proliferation of overfishing. Yet another worrying signal, beside the decrease in the profitability of fishing by more than 30 percent in just one year, is the reduction in the size of the fish caught: they are getting smaller and smaller, or younger and younger, often not having reached sexual maturity, which weighs heavily on their rate of reproduction. We fish too much — more than three times the sustainable limit — and we fish badly.
As for the European funds allocated for the fisheries sector, which for Italy have amounted to around €19 million between 1994 and 2006, instead of being properly invested in scientific research and in the selective distribution of fishing activities to ensure long-term profitability, they were used for the construction of new fishing vessels, of higher and higher capacity, which have emptied out the sea and devastated small coastal fishing, which has a much lower impact on the environment.
In Italy, small sea fish are mainly being caught in two ways. The first is the fishing light method, using a small rowboat called a lampara which accompanies the fishing vessel and which has artificial lights that attract small fish, which are in turn captured in a net after some hours of waiting—a traditional and selective method. The second is pair trawling, which consists of two fishing vessels towing a net between them, a system that leads to a high percentage of unwanted fish, either of the wrong species or too small. It is precisely concerning this second system, which is invasive and not very selective, that Italy takes a large share of the blame.
Instead of encouraging traditional fishing, dozens of licenses to fish with the pair trawling system have been granted over the years, supposedly for scientific research. These so-called special licenses are temporary fishing licenses that, theoretically, should be granted only for a limited time and under close monitoring. No scientific study or work has ever been published that would explain why these have been granted, but they have been issued on a de facto regular basis for almost 20 years, first in Veneto and then in Sicily. In 2016, Minister Martina was found to be granting such licenses to fishing vessels that had engaged in illegal activities, continuing a tradition of poor transparency and non-compliance with the rules that has always been typical in this sector.