By Humphrey Carter THE annual fishery protection operation is about to start in Balearic waters and yesterday a special government fisheries protection department plane landed in Palma to help patrol local waters over the next few months. With the involvement of environmental groups, first and foremost Greenpeace, the police, Guardia Civil, navy and the air force, the summer anti-illegal fishing campaign has developed into a major operation. The main targets are trawlers, mostly Italian French although over the past few years fleets from North Africa and as far away as the Far East have been spotted, using illegal-sized nets in local waters. Since 2002, 60 kilometres of illegal nets have been confiscated in the Balearics. In accordance with European Union legislation, nets can be no wider than 2.5 kilometres, however, every year, the authorities intercept trawlers using much larger nets as they go in hunt of pink tuna which only breed off the Balearics and in the Gulf of Mexcico. The Balearic and western Mediterranean fishery patrols have received the full support and backing of the European Union over recent years as Europe battles to protect and preserve dwindling fish stocks. However, and more importantly as far as the environmentalists are concerned, the use of illegal nets causes serious damage to other marine species, in particular dolphins and turtles, and the marine habitat. Yesterday the Balearic governor general, Ramon Socias, was given a tour of the fishery protection aircraft which is fitted with the very latest satellite technology to enable the crew to locate trawlers using illegal drag nets and then guide the navy or coast guard to the scene.

Photos: P. Bota