13 MARCH 2002
By Ray Abdilla
The government has not given up yet in its bid to get a derogation from the European Union which would prevent foreign fishermen operating in Maltese waters, even though a spokesperson for EU commissioner, Gunther Verheugen, has said that Malta will not get its request.
High officials from the Maltese government told The Malta Financial and Business Times that Malta would continue to make its counter proposals, despite media reports that Brussels plans to allow foreign fishermen to still operate in the 25-mile area around the Maltese islands.
"We are not yet ready to give in to such decisions taken by the European Union, there is still plenty more to discuss on the agenda," said Colin Scicluna, spokesman for the head of the negotiating team, Richard Cachia Caruana. "We have until the end of the year to close the Fisheries Chapter, so theres time enough to persevere in our bid for a derogation."
Meanwhile, a spokesman from the Malta EU Information Centre added that if necessary the conclusions of discussions could be put before the European ministers or even the European Prime Ministers.
The issue of allowing foreign fishermen into Maltese territorial waters has been a bone of contention for some time in the lead-up to EU negotiations.
This area is at present off limits to foreign fishing vessels. In fact, Malta controls an area equivalent to 12 nautical miles around the Maltese coast, which would attract foreign fishermen, especially Italians. In fact, Maltese fishermen often report that their foreign competitors trespass in this area.
The Maltese government has argued that if foreign fishermen were allowed to operate within the 25-mile area, it would endanger the species that inhabit the Maltese territorial waters, but the EU has countered that ensuring foreign fishermen use only certain types of nets in Maltese waters would eliminate this danger.
But news of Mr Verheugens stand was no surprise to Noel Farrugia, Labour party spokesman on fisheries.
"There is no doubt that if it was possible, the EU would adhere to all of Maltas requests, but there are logistics to take into account," he said. "Under EU rules, protection has to stop and as the WTO states, there are structures that work differently in Europe and the US."
Maltas current 25 nautical mile fishing zone was established in 1971 in order to manage fishing effort and maintain resources at sustainable levels.
The act was drafted to conform to the Communitys basic fisheries legislation on management of resources and control and covers inspection and monitoring of fishing vessels and their activities.
The Common Agricultural Policy Unit at the Customs Department, which will be operational by the second quarter of 2002, will implement the tariff quotas and carry out the surveillance on imports and inter-trade through documentary and physical controls.
In order to implement fully the Communitys marketing regulations
Malta has said it will upgrade the fish marketing facilities by the
fourth quarter of 2002, to meet the required standards.