Victory
Petitioning The Flemish Ministers of Fisheries and Nature

Petition for an immediate ban on the recreational use of gill nets on Belgian beaches

To the Flemish Minister of Fisheries,
To the Flemish Minister of Nature,

Conservation organisations Sea Shepherd Belgium, BlueShark, Natuurpunt and Sea First Belgium campaign together for a safe, sustainable and animal friendly Belgian coast, and demand an immediate ban on the recreational use of gill and entangling nets on Belgian beaches.

1. According to the European Union’s Habitats Directive the harbor porpoise is a protected species, included in its most stringent protection regime. This means that member states are required to take all necessary precautions to prevent repeated by-catch of the species. Our Federal Government complied and issued a ban on the recreational use of gill nets below the low water line in 2001. However, above the low water line it is the Flemish Government and the mayors of the coastal cities who are in charge, and they fail to take action. Belgium has been repeatedly reprimanded by the European Union for this inaction on multiple occasions since 2003. In 2007 our country received a Formal Notice stating that sanctions, fines and legal steps might be taken. The complaint was dismissed after Belgium promised to address the issue with a new Protected Species Decree. With this Protected Species Decree, a Protected Species Plan can be set up for all animals in Belgium, including the harbor porpoise. The Decree was ratified in 2009. It is the responsibility of the Flemish Minister of Nature to develop and implement the Protected Species Plan, but despite the ratified Directive and new formal questions of the EU, preparations for the execution of this Species Protection Plan have yet to be initiated.

2. The current Belgian legislation concerning the recreational use of gill and entangling nets is very confusing to say the least. Next to a Ministerial Decree which imposes some restrictions, every municipality has its own fishing rules and regulations. Also the rules on the use of the nets differs from one coastal municipality to the next. This leads to confusion for both the fishermen and the police, making adequate enforcement impossible. The Flemish minister of Fishery is empowered to carry out a national ban on the recreational use of gill and entangling nets.

3. The inventory of the recreational use of gill nets on our coast is flawed. In 2011 the Flemish Government Sea Fisheries Service registered only 21 gill net permits over a large coastal area, while in just one municipality in that area alone, 100 gill net licenses were issued. (Source: Flemish Parliament Minutes of the Plenary Meeting of December 21st, 2011). These misreported numbers make it impossible to assess the actual impact of the use of these nets on the marine ecosystem of our coastal waters.

4. Sport fishermen also use these non-selective nets in spring, when important North Sea fish species like sole and plaice approach the beaches to spawn. The next generations of these stocks are thus removed for a “hobby”, while the commercial fishing industry needs stark subsidies as catches keep decreasing. The authorized use of these nets clearly conflicts with the Federal Government’s efforts to restore fish stocks.

5. A ban on the use of gill nets is by no means an obstacle for recreational fishing. There are many alternatives for anglers like fishing with rods, flat nets or fyke nets.

6. Gill nets are so efficient that they cannot be considered as being appropriate for recreational fishing. During certain periods of the year, catches in these nets are so plentiful that it is impossible that the numbers of fish caught, are being used for home consumption alone. In these months, the amount of fish caught by gill nets fixed on our beaches, even competes with the amounts caught by the Belgian commercial fishery. Moreover, in inland waterways the use of gill nets is considered to be poaching, as the goal of the use is clearly to catch as much fish as possible.

7. The use of gill nets on beaches endangers recreational beach users, divers, surfers and kids. In the past, a dog was reported to have drowned in a gill net which was fixed at the low water line. (Source: Report gill nets Coastal Workgroup Natuurpunt 2011).  To make matters even worse, the nets are fixed on the beaches with sticks, poles, anchors, lines with hooks and even concrete, making physical injury to recreational beach users a realistic possiblity.

8. The nets are extremely destructive when they accidentally detach from their moorings. Once adrift, these ‘ghost nets’ continue to make useless victims among the marine life, day after day and year after year.

9. Every year more strictly protected harbour porpoises and other sea mammals fall victim to these gill nets. It was scientifically proven that 26 of the porpoises that washed up on our shores between January and September 2013, suffocated and drowned as bycatch – many of them without any doubt in the recreational nets off the Belgian beaches (very fresh carcasses with clear gill net caused injuries). (Sources: KBIN Information Note of September 18, 2013 and IFAW-report ‘The harbour porpoise in the southern North Sea’).

10. Porpoises and seals play an important role in the marine ecosystem of the North Sea. As predators at the top of the food chain, they maintain the balance and ensure a healthy gene pool among their prey, by eliminating the weak, sick and old fish. Numerous scientific studies have shown that a decrease in the number of predators always results in a decrease of commercial fish stocks in that area.

11. Finally we also want to point out that the drowning of these highly intelligent toothed whales and other marine mammals, is a matter of animal welfare. Research and autopsy has shown that these animals have suffered serious injuries caused by a slow and painful death. (Source: KBIN)

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  • The Flemish Ministers of Fisheries and Nature

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