11 July 2001
The decision by the Nationalist Party to postpone the Fish Fair that it holds annually at Marsaxlokk is indicative of the ill manner the government handled the tuna fishing controversy between Maltese and Italian fishermen.
It is obvious that Maltese fishermen feel annoyed by governments decision to hand over the tuna pen to the Italians.
They are more embittered by the behaviour of the Armed Forces personnel who fired warming shots that allegedly hit one of the Maltese boats.
The tuna war is not a simple issue to resolve because it involves international conventions and has political undertones. However, there are three issues that need to be looked at seriously.
The first issue concerns the resolution of fishing disputes at a high level between Mediterranean countries. The Maltese government must show more resolve in raising the issue on the international scene in the best interest of Maltese fishermen. It must be more vociferous on sustainable fishing methods to ensure that fishing stocks are not depleted. This is a role Malta can take unto itself.
The second issue concerns the Maltese fishing fleet. International competition is a fact of life irrespective of Maltas foreign policy direction and Maltese fishermen must realise this. They have to get together and invest in modern equipment and fishing boats. Relying on traditional practices is not enough to ensure they get a decent living. The reduced tuna catches experienced this year are a reflection of the outdated methods used by Maltese fishermen. To compete with the Italian, Spanish, French and Japanese fleets Maltese boats have to be revamped and the whole industry restructured.
The third issue at stake is the impact of EU membership on the fishing industry. Government intends negotiating a 25-mile exclusive conservation zone, something that would require an exception for Malta. This is an important issue that the negotiators must stress with the EU. Even if the local fleet restructures itself on international lines the size of the Maltese market still creates difficulty and such an exclusive zone would help to soften the impact of membership on the fishing industry.
All in all government must take a pro-active approach to the whole
issue. It is useless waiting for another fishing fiasco to take action.
The last thing Maltese fishermen want is another showdown on the high