Coral Fishing in the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean red coral (Corallium Rubrum) is formed in branching colonies which may exceed even 40-50 metres in height. The most superficial corals, found at 50 metres below the sea level, are characterised by thick and small size colonies, with little market value, while the deepest corals, growing beyond 50 metres below the sea level, are characterised by big and scattered colonies, with higher market value. Over the centuries, Mediterranean red coral has been subjected to intense and even violent fishing activities, which have led to recent environmental policies to regulate coral fishing and use. However, according to scientific researches, Mediterranean coral is not among the endangered species, since we can find abundant colonies all over the Mediterranean and most of the organisms continue to constantly reproduce. For that reason, the Mediterranean coral is not included in the Washington Convention.
In the EU, Mediterranean coral fishing and manufacture, are regulated by the European Union Habitat Directive, and by specific environmental legislation preventing the inappropriate use of instruments which may damage seabeds and marine species in the Mediterranean area.
In Italy, the Regional Law n.59 – 05/06/1979 introduced a set of rules to regulate and control coral fishing in the Mediterranean and guarantee the continuing growth of coral colonies.
Ten years later, the Regional Law n.23- 30/05/1989 established additional restrictions to better protect the marine ecosystem from intensive fishing activities and forbid the use of harmful fishing equipment having a strong impact on coral and marine biodiversity.
Nowadays, coral fishing in the Mediterranean is practised exclusively by licensed underwater fishermen, who select only the biggest coral branches, allowing the smallest ones to continue growing.
Coral fishing in the Pacific Ocean
Even countries bordering the Pacific Ocean have a long coral fishing and manufacturing tradition, dating back to the beginning of the 19th century. In Northwest Pacific area, the countries specialized in coral fishing are Taiwan, Japan and China.
In 1965, Japanese fishermen discovered a huge bank of pink coral at about 400 meters below the sea level in the Milwaukee Bank, near the Emperor Seamount Chain. For about 20 years, the Milwaukee Bank delivered almost the entire amount of the Pacific coral to national and international markets.
In the Pacific area, coral fishing methods and instruments evolved over the years. At the beginning, dredging was made through nets weighted down to the sea bottom with stones. Nowadays, they use submarine boats, able to reach over 200 meters below the sea level, to pick up coral branches with mechanical arms.
Fishing coral in the Pacific Ocean is regulated by a specific environmental legislation to control the protected species and the fishing grounds.
Pacific coral, mostly coming from China, is enlisted in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, also known as CITES, among the species to be protected from extinction. Since 2008, this international agreement has been regulating the import and export of Pacific coral all over the world.
Scientific research had and still has an important role in the management of coral fishing and manufacturing, in both the Mediterranean and Pacific areas. The main goals of the scientific studies are to provide sustainable instruments for coral preservation, as well as better strategies to protect this important marine resource from exploitation.
Recent researches on Mediterranean coral colonies, conducted by simulating the reproduction rate over time, have shown that there are still active colonies in the Mediterranean, whose protection is fundamental for their survival. It is important to highlight the difference between coral reef corals and corals used for jewellery.
According to zoologists, they are classified in the same phylum, Cnidaria, and the same class, Anthozoa, but the former belongs to the Scleractinia order; while the latter belongs to Alcyonacea order, and can be found on rocky seabed at depths ranging from 10-15 meters to over 100 meters.