One year has passed since Archipelagos, Institute of Marine Conservation, first reported to the national authorities the on-going incidents of illegal and destructive fishing practices taking place in the waters off Mount Athos.
For more than a year now certain fishing boats, mainly purse seines, have continued openly illegal fishing practices in the area. The authorities are aware of these incidents, as we have repeatedly reported to them details of the specific fishing vessels (name, reg. number, etc).
It should be mentioned that in the waters off Mount Athos there is a special fisheries regime, under which fishing is prohibited in the marine zone of 500 meters around the coast, except for monks, who for centuries fish with the same artisanal and sustainable fishing practices. In this way, the monks have, for centuries, ensured the sustainable management of their food supply. This management indirectly benefits the surrounding waters of the northern Aegean, as due to its special geomorphology, this zone supplies with juveniles the fishstocks of the wider marine area.
In essence, the sea around Mount Athos is the only sustainably managed fisheries area of Greece which, unfortunately, today has been overexploited to such an extent that the fish caught are no longer sufficient even for the monks.
The illegal fishing incidents recorded and reported by Archipelagos, take place in the waters around the southern tip of Mount Athos, where there are mainly smaller and poorer monasteries, i.e. far from the well-known ones visited by politicians and celebrities. Illegal fishermen are terrorizing monks with the threat of burning the surrounding forest, in the case that they report to the authorities the illegal fishing incidents; and this is the monks’ greatest fear.
It is noteworthy that tolerance of these destructive fishing practices is not only due to financial benefits, but also due to the inefficiency and incompetence of the national fisheries authorities. There also lack of political will to put an end to the severe overexploitation of our natural resources, and especially those of our seas. These resources allowed the survival and development of the local communities in Greece, and it is therefore of utmost importance to preserve them for the generations to come.
The overexploitation of fish stocks off Mount Athos is not an isolated event, but it indicates the extent of this problem in Greece. Still, it is indicative of what consequences we should expect, if no real measures are taken. It also shows that the various media announcements made by the national fisheries authorities about sustainable fisheries in Greece, are rarely put in practice. Our seas, fish stocks and fishermen’s livelihoods are completely unprotected.
In recent months Archipelagos has frequently reported in real-time, the IUU fisheries incidents off Mount Athos, to both the local Port Authority and to the Fisheries Monitoring Centre in Piraeus, in order to confirm the specific cases. However, we once again realise that the control mechanisms are inefficient. Despite the mobilization that Archipelagos created to the relevant authorities, there seems to be no way to put an end to the plundering of these fish stocks. Illegal fishermen once caught only pay a small fine, which represents a fraction of the profit of the illegal catch. The “point-system” for fisheries control, has not yet been enforced, so the small fines, instead of discouraging the illegal fishing practices, almost operate as an incentive.
Archipelagos, in close cooperation with an informal network that we have formed, which consists of hundreds of fishermen and citizens from many coastal regions of Greece, continues to work 24/7 for the defence of the natural resources of our seas. Only in this way we can reveal the true extent of the destructive and illegal fishing practices in Greece, but also exert the necessary pressure to the authorities, to put an end to the overexploitation of our seas.