15 MAY 2002
It was leaked in last Saturdays Times that a basis of agreement was reached over the 25-mile fishing conservation zone but the supposedly good news has been given a lukewarm reception by the fishermen themselves, who claim that the agreement is just a proposal.
Speaking to The Malta Financial and Business Times a representative of the National Fisheries Co-operative (Koperattiva Nazzjonali tas-Sajd), Ivan Portanier said that the agreement was only passed on to fishermen verbally at a Meusac (Malta-EU Steering Action Committee) meeting. Labour spokesperson Noel Farrugia also shed doubts on the agreement.
"All we have are sketchy details and nothing in writing. Furthermore, we are informed that it is just a proposal implying that it can still change if the EU rejects it or government decides to amend it," Mr Portanier remarked.
Governments proposal for a 25-mile fishing conservation zone will prevent boats longer than 12 metres from fishing within the zone. The main thrust of the argument is that such a proviso will prevent foreign boats from fishing in Maltese waters because the vast majority foreign fishermen have boats larger than 12 metres.
Mr Portanier cast a wary eye on this proposal because it would mean that Maltese fishermen, with boats longer than 12 metres, would not be allowed to fish in the conservation zone. In addition, foreigners with smaller boats will still have access to waters, which have been traditionally fished by Maltese fishermen.
He said, "the problem is that most Maltese fishermen who have boats greater than 12 metres already fish within this zone. If the proposal goes through these fishermen will not be allowed to continue fishing in the 25 mile radius where they have been fishing for years."
Mr Portanier explained the difficulty that Maltese fishermen face during the tuna season because of bad weather. "In this short two-month season the weather is not that all helpful. Sometimes it is just a matter of deciding whether to go out, just for 24 hours, which is a very short time frame for fishermen to cast their lines. When this happens boats start casting their lines well within the 25-mile conservation zone to avoid wasting time and to be closer to shore should the weather change to the worse. With governments proposal a number of fishing days can be lost in an already short season, for boats larger than 12 metres."
Despite admitting the difficulty to obtain such a condition, Mr Portanier was adamant that the co-operative would be insisting on a condition that would prevent foreign fishermen to fish in the 25-mile zone.
Mr Portanier added that according to government the fishing done at present within the 25-mile zone is sustainable. "Therefore, government could grant a fishing permit to all existing fishermen and prevent new boats, both local and foreign from being granted permits thus ensuring the zone remains a conservation area."
Speaking on the financial aid that government would be providing fishermen, Mr Portanier said that no details have yet been released by the Maltese authorities. "All we have been told is that there is financial aid to build new boats less than 12 metres or to replace the larger boats with smaller ones."
Labour spokesperson Noel Farrugia was also sceptical. "There are a number of facts that need to be clarified," he told this newspaper.
"Government has not answered the question what will Malta benefit by giving up its right over the 25-mile fishing zone to adhere to the Common Fisheries Policy of the EU," Mr Farrugia said.
"We will also be giving up our right to negotiate with neighbouring countries the extension of our fishing zone up to the continental shelf and government has not explained what advantage this could possibly bring to fishermen," Mr Farrugia added, describing governments negotiating stance as a complete mess.