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EU Commission is seeking a full ban on driftnet fishing to protect dolphins, sea turtles, tuna

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In this Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013 file photo, European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Maria Damanaki addresses the media at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. The European Union’s executive has proposed to ban the use of driftnets in EU waters and on its vessels anywhere by year’s end, to better enforce the protection of dolphins and other sea mammals, sea turtles and sea birds. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe, file)

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In this Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013 file photo, European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Maria Damanaki addresses the media at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. The European Union’s executive has proposed to ban the use of driftnets in EU waters and on its vessels anywhere by year’s end, to better enforce the protection of dolphins and other sea mammals, sea turtles and sea birds. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe, file)

BRUSSELS - The European Union's executive on Wednesday proposed to ban all use of driftnets in EU waters and on its vessels by year's end to better enforce the protection of dolphins, sharks, swordfish and bluefin tuna.

Driftnets stretching for miles close to the surface have often been responsible for the incidental capture and killing of thousands of marine animals that are important to the ecosystem. They were also responsible for indiscriminate fishing that often resulted in huge by-caches with little commercial value.

Often they were called the "walls of death" since they trapped and killed anything within nets that could measure dozens of kilometres.

"Fishing with driftnets destroys marine habitats, endangers marine wildlife and threatens sustainable fisheries," said EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki.

These type of nets were previously used in the hunt for endangered bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean until the EU banned such fishing in 2002. Even if laws already restricted its use, driftnet fishing often continued illegally and a total ban on driftnets would make catching cheats easier. The EU courts had to take action against Italy and France half a decade ago to stop such practices.

The proposal now goes to the EU's 28 member states for approval.

"We need to close any possible loopholes and simplify control and enforcement," said Damanaki. "The ban sends out a clear message that we no longer tolerate any irresponsible practices."

The Pew Charitable Trusts said Wednesday's proposal showed the EU's "willingness to crack down on the illegal fishing of bluefin tuna."

Over the past years the EU has stepped up its efforts to clamp down on any kind of illegal fishing and on commercial fishing which depleted the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans off its borders.

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Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert

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