The annual battle against illegal tuna fishing fleets in the Mediterranean with the focus of this year's operation, launched yesterday, being on Balearic waters. This year the battle to save pink tuna stocks has been reinforced with a helicopter, the Spanish Navy and the Guardia Civil. The Spanish government wants to outlaw the illegal trawlers, many using nets far bigger than those permitted by the European Union and, as was discovered last year, many are using light planes to spot schools of the tuna and guide the trawlers in. Two of the spotters were busted in Majorca last year. The problem is that the majority of the illegal trawlers are not Spanish. The Italian and the French are the biggest culprits. Four years ago the Italians sent three high speed customs launches and inspectors to Majorca to help with the battle, but now they claim that fishery inspection teams are keeping watch on the Italian fleets in port. The French however have pledged little support to the drive to protect depleting pink tuna stocks and a crackdown on pirate fishing fleets. Yesterday the Ministry for Agriculture in Madrid released a series of aerial photographs taken of illegal trawlers at work, during the operation, the air force also came across a trawler being guided into the tuna school by a light aircraft. Stopping the illegal fleets entering Balearic waters is also vital as, at this time of year, the Balearics is the pink tuna's mating ground. But, market forces are too tempting for pirate fishing trawlers, the bulk of the pink tuna is sold to the Japanese market at a high price - far greater than the fines handed out when caught by the Spanish authorities. There are 40 French and six Spanish trawlers operating in the Western Mediterranean at the moment, all under close surveillance. The Italians are on their way.

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