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Protect Traditional Tuna Fishermen, Not “Foreign” Boats

Reference is made to Caroline Muscat’s article (The Sunday Times, June 28) regarding the tuna plan Malta has to adopt to reduce the tuna stock. Being one of a long line of fishermen, I can assure the public that no traditional fisherman is threatening the tuna in the Mediterranean.

Traditional fishermen operate on wooden boats that are small compared with the ones being used by foreign fishermen. If the tuna are not hungry, they do not approach the hook. In fact, even catching two or three fish in one night is considered lucky.

On the other hand, the foreign ‘fishermen’ (they can be seen berthed in our harbours by the end of April with large iron boats and nets), operate with large nets and trap a large number of tuna. They use sophisticated instruments to spot their prey.

In one session their catch are equivalent to the catch of all the traditional fishermen in one season. The fish they catch are kept alive and fattened in Maltese fish farms and then exported to Japan.

This kind of fishing, which in some countries has been abolished, is destroying this species and consequently, the national quota entitled by the EU/ICCAT to Malta is diminishing each year.

While I am in favor of protecting the tuna fish, I cannot understand why the authorities are being tough with the weak traditional fishermen who are in no way causing any damage. The industrial fleets, purse seiners, are exploiting and driving the tuna fish to extinction. Even worse, they are ruining the livelihood of the traditional fishermen.

As stated in The Sunday Times article, the purse-seiners managed to create a rift between local fishermen by roping in those traditional fishermen who own big boats.

Where are the environmentalists and the animal lovers? Tuna fish are animals too, except they cannot be seen or heard because they are underwater.

I have my doubts about how the shrinking national quota allocated by the EU/ICCAT to Malta has been allocated to each fisherman. Why did the Fisheries Department allow the transmission of the quota allotted to the ‘fisherman’ working for purse-seiners/fish farms to the company paying them and not divide it among the traditional fisherman? Why did the department not publish the quota distribution process? An investigation should be undertaken by the authorities so the story will not repeat itself.

While the Maltese were celebrating the tuna feast in Marsaxlokk on June 13, fishermen were forced to berth their boats as the Fisheries Department closed the tuna season. The department is also closing the swordfish season for another two months without any compensation.

The fisherman is now not allowed to work for at least three months a year, not mentioning the number of weeks and months of bad weather that makes fishing near impossible.

Can you imagine not receiving your salary for months? In other countries where there is a closed season the fisherman are duly reimbursed. As Greenpeace has said, it is the modest fisherman who is suffering the most.