Exemplary sentence for illegal fishing of date mussels in Italy

The perpetrators have been condemned to up to 6 years of imprisonment and to compensate civil parties, such as WWF Italy, for the significant environmental damages caused

WWF Italy, partner of the SWiPE project, welcomes an exemplary ruling issued today in Italy: the Court of Naples has condemned those responsible for the illegal fishing and selling of date mussels (Lithophaga lithophaga) to up to six years’ imprisonment, as well as the confiscation of vehicles and vessels and the payment of court costs. The defendants were convicted of crimes such as:

  • environmental disaster (art. 452-quarter c.p.),
  • environmental pollution (art. 452-bis c.p.)
  • aggravated damage (art. 635 c.p.) and
  • receiving (art. 648 c.p.) in relation to the illegal selling of the shellfish.

It was also recognized the right of civil parties, including WWF Italy, to be compensated for the damage suffered.

The importance of in-depth investigations to fight traffic

The ruling confirms how important it is, in terms of combating environmental and wildlife crimes, to carry out accurate investigations using the most modern investigative systems. This way only it is possible to offer the judge a clear representation of the real extent, not only of the damage caused to the environment and biodiversity but of the entire criminal chain that brings these products from the sea to the tables of the final consumers, including many restaurants.

The sentence is the result of three years of investigations conducted by the Italian Financial Police and Coast Guard, coordinated by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Naples, that have brought to light the existence of two criminal groups – one active in the area of Naples and the other in the Sorrento peninsula (especially in the area of the Island of Capri, a popular touristic destination). The two groups have collaborated in their criminal activity for about twenty years, carrying out a constant illegal extraction of date mussels resulting in exceptionally significant damage to the marine ecosystem, considered irreparable in some cases.

The investigations were carried out mainly through interceptions. Thanks to specific and targeted police operations (stakeouts, inspections, searches, scuba diving), it has been possible to document and, finally, to stop these illegal actions. The technical consultants of the Prosecutor’s Office, through further on-site investigations, have ascertained and quantified the damage caused to the different environmental components, not only to living organisms but to whole habitats.

Extraction of date mussels: a devastating activity for the ecosystem

The extraction of date mussels involves the use of hammers and other extremely invasive tools in order to crush the rocks where the mussel digs its burrows. This process involves the total devastation of the biological communities and marine ecosystems.

Date mussels fishing is a serious and widespread phenomenon in the Mediterranean region. According to WWF Italy’s report “The invisible damage of nature crimes” carried out under the Life SWiPE project, from 2015 to 2020 the Coast Guard ordered the seizure of more than two tons of illegally caught dates mussels. This figure is in addition to numerous other incidents of illegal fishing, often also detected in Marine Protected Areas. It is, therefore, necessary to implement controls and provide the Investigation and Supervisory Authorities with additional resources, staff and regulatory and operational tools to improve the effectiveness of law enforcement activities.

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