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Malta Keeps Its Bluefin Tuna Fleet Unchanged

The Mediterranean tuna fishing season will be 15 days shorter this year with quotas and fleets also cut, EU sources said last week; but environmentalists complained it was too little, too late.

The bluefin fishing season began officially on Thursday and ends on 15 June, two weeks earlier than the scheduled 2008 season.

At the same time the European Commission has reduced allowed quotas by 27 per cent overall. It has also negotiated a cut in fishing capacity for the industrial fishing ‘purse seiners’, which use huge cylindrical nets to scoop up their catch.

Last year’s season was cut short in mid-June when the European Commission ordered a halt to industrial fishing of bluefin tuna two weeks early because quotas for 2008 had already been reached.

Both France and Italy opposed that decision, questioning the commission’s figures and saying that their fishing industries had not reached even half their quotas.

The biggest fishing fleet reductions have been agreed by the biggest tuna fishing nations in the EU, with Italy scrapping 19 boats to leave a total of 68 and France getting rid of eight to leave a fleet of 36 purse seiners.

Of the other European Union members only Spain and Malta retain smaller tuna fleets, which will remain unchanged, while Greece has recently scrapped the last of its tuna ships.

The EU has also decided to freeze the capacity of tuna farms, mainly in Malta, and to boost inspections at sea to avoid the kind of fraud where fishing ships sell their wares to the farms before coming into port.

“It’s the last chance” to avoid the end of Mediterranean bluefin tuna, which has been heavily overfished in the past, an EU official said.