How Sea Shepherd is Cleaning Up the Med

Monday, 02 Dec, 2019

Sea Shepherd returns to defend the already overexploited Mediterranean Sea by exposing the biggest cause of plastic pollution: illegal fishing gear. This was carried out with the help of the Aeolian Islands Preservation Fund and Smile Wave in collaboration with Lipari and Salina’s artisanal fishermen.

Sea Shepherd teams up with Italian authorities to remove the illegal fishing gear from Italian waters. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

Sea Shepherd is fighting against the plastic pollution caused by illegal fishing gear, which has long been the biggest cause of plastic pollution destroying the Mediterranean seabed, its ecosystem, and its coral reefs. Moreover, the millions of bottles and plastic tanks abandoned at sea continue to pollute and as they deteriorate over time, producing huge amounts of microplastics. Once their anchoring gets severed, FADs become death traps made of floating twine nets that entangle and kill seabirds, sea turtles, whales and fish.

The estimated number of illegal Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) is beyond imagination:

• 10,000 illegal FADs in the South Tyrrhenian Sea with an estimated 20,000 kilometers of polypropylene twine and hundreds of plastic bottles and tanks.
• According to a scientific paper published on the Journal of Environmental Management combining research from Sicily, Malta and Tunisia between 1961 to 2017, 1.6 million FADs and 5.4 million plastic bottles and tanks have been dumped in the Mediterranean Sea (reference).
• Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing kills millions of different species illegally, making criminals richer and seriously damaging legal artisanal fishing.

Operation Siso 2019 is a campaign in partnership with Italian authorities using two Sea Shepherd vessels -- initially operating undercover -- a 35 ft catamaran and a RHIB, The Hunter. 

The campaign included the assistance of artisanal fishermen from Lipari and Salina who have contributed to the campaign by informing Sea Shepherd about the areas most affected by overfishing, providing their knowledge for the defense of the sea, and joining the fight against poaching by reporting the position of illegal FADs. The campaign was also supported by the Italian conductor Roberto Soldatini, who joined Sea Shepherd to defend the sea using his own sailing boat.

After departing from Portorosa, Sicily, the team followed a course through waters known for having a high concentration of illegal FADs. The vessels were equipped with a system of winches specifically designed to retrieve every part of the deeply anchored FADs, to effectively retrieve all of the polypropylene twine and plastic tanks from the sea.

Direct action to start pulling in the first FADs began on October 12th at 9:15am with the agreement of Italy’s Financial Police and the Coast Guard. Dozens of illegal FADs located and tracked with GPS were retrieved in the following days, dismantling the illegal fishing system that  hopelessly traps and kills marine wildlife such as turtles and whales.

In the following weeks of constant work, 77 illegal FADS with 150 kilometers of polypropylene twine and hundreds of tanks with dangerous and highly polluting residues were retrieved, confiscated and delivered to the Lipari Coast Guard.

“Together, we will win,” says Andrea Morello, Campaign Leader of Operation SISO. “The problem of illegal FADs has shown its real apocalyptic magnitude. Alone we wouldn’t be able to face these numbers even if we had 100 vessels; but we will win through our partnership with local authorities such as the Financial Police and Coast Guard, as well as the individuals sailing in the Mediterranean Sea and the artisanal fishing fleets of any island, village or country that will report illegal activities. Together, with support from our donors and foundations such as the Aeolian Preservation Fund and Smile Wave, we will bring back law and justice, and save millions of lives.”

Pulling up illegal FADs from the Mediterranean. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

“The Ocean provides 70% of the planet’s oxygen. Every person sailing on the Mediterranean Sea will have to choose to stop illegal activity, to actively protecting the sea as Roberto did with his sail boat, changing the fate of the world’s most exploited sea. According to the UN data published in the “Sofia” report, 62% of its fishing stocks is already collapsed. To protect the Mediterranean Sea against IUU fishing and illegal FADs we need everyone’s help, and donations to provide a vessel permanently dedicated to the protection of our sea. We will set sail from the biggest private fleet on Earth to defend “our clients”: all wildlife living in the Ocean.”

Andrea Morello, Campaign Leader of Operation SISO
Sea Shepherd teams up with Italian authorities to remove the illegal fishing gear from Italian waters. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

You can support the campaign by visiting (in Italian only) where it will soon be possible for individuals to identify and report sightings of illegal FADs at sea by consulting the ID registry, sending coordinates and uploading photos.

About FAD’s 

Artisanal fishing gear internationally known as Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs), locally called “caponare” or “canizzi”, are illegal in the waters of the Aeolian Islands.

FADs are comprised of 2 parts: a floating part made of plastic tanks and palm leaves, and an anchored part, usually made by a long polypropylene twine tied around a weight of concrete or stones that anchors the device deeply to the seabed. The target of this device is mainly the dolphinfish (“mahi mahi” in USA, “capone” in Sicily), a pelagic fish that swims through the Tyrrhenian Sea in large numbers from the end of summer to the end of the year.

The local fisheries management plan of the Aeolian Archipelago sets rules about the use of “cannizzi”: “specific areas will be located where to anchor the “cannizzi” and the number (max.20), the location and the positioning will be programmed. They are informally assigned to fishermen and marked to be recognizable. To prepare for the early dolphinfish migration that has been taking place in recent years, the positioning of the “cannizzi” can start from the 15th of September, and catches are allowed starting from the 30th of September”. When FADs are unmarked for identification, non-biodegradable, and untraceable, they are considered IUU fishing equipment.

Learn more about Operation Siso

Watch the video "The Best FAD Killer" below:

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