Maritime Affairs, Islands and Fisheries Minister Ioannis Diamantidis on Tuesday confirmed in Parliament that the fishing of red coral has been permitted in the seas of the southeast Aegean, with four licences covering the years 2011 until 2015.
Replying to a question tabled by independent MPs Athanasios Leventis, Nikolaos Tsoukalis and Grigoris Psarianos, Diamantidis said that a ministerial decree had been published in the government gazette on February 11 and that the process for the issuing licences was now underway.
The three MPs had asked that the fishing licences be withdrawn in order to conduct an official survey of the coral population in Greek waters. They pointed out that 88 of 200 species of coral populating the Mediterranean are found in Greek seas. Among others, they include commercially valuable varieties, such as the red coral or the rare and more expensive black coral.
They deplored a lack of protection of coral reefs in Greek waters and denounced the destruction of coral reefs in the Gulf of Corinth near Patras and the town of Aigio, which have been buried under rubble dumped into the sea by contractors building the new Athens-Patras national highway.
They also noted that the percentage of coral-populated Greek waters that enjoy any level of protection under the law is very low, making corals vulnerable to activities generating pollutants or causing mechanical disturbance of the sea bed, such as drag nets, anchors and dumping.
Diamantidis explained in his reply that coral fishing licences are issued for a maximum of five years, which can be reduced if the density of corals is deemed dangerously low. This is followed by a 25-year ban on all coral-fishing in the same region in order to allow recovery of stocks. Extraction of corals using any form of dragging tools is banned and the licence is given for fishing by divers using hand-held tools.
Coral-fishing boats are also obliged to record the quantities collected and to map reserves, informing the local coast guard which sends the information to the maritime affairs ministry.
There has been no official coral fishing since 2005, partly due to delays in issuing licences and partly due to the inability of coral fishing craft to organise and activate licences issued.
The minister agreed on the need to record and map coral populations and informed the MPs that the environment ministry and the Greek Centre for Marine Studies had already prepared studies that would lead to the establishment of new NATURA 2000 zones to protect corals.