3 JULY 2002
By Marika Azzopardi and Ray Abdilla
Government will not be issuing any new fishing licences to either Maltese or EU fishermen to be able to fish in the 25-mile fishing conservation zone, thus putting the minds of current Maltese fishermen at rest.
But it would probably have to take more than the ministers assurance to convince fishermen to relinquish the status quo.
Talking to The Malta Financial and Business Times, Fisheries Minister Ninu Zammit said the negotiated package established that within Malta's 25-mile zone, the current fishing effort should not be increased. This means that no fishing more than what is being done today will be allowed.
The minister explained that if any Maltese fisherman decides to abandon the trade and give up his licence, then the fishing effort would be reduced, opening up the possibility of a licence being purchased by another Maltese or EU citizen.
With some notable exceptions only boats smaller than 12 metres in length are allowed to fish in the 25-mile zone.
But Koperattiva Nazzjonali tas-Sajd PRO Ivan Portanier told this newspaper that there is an all round consensus amongst fishermen that the situation should remain unchanged.
"Fishermen believe that the area within the 25-mile zone should remain exclusively available to the Maltese fishermen and the area outside remain allotted to others," Mr Portanier said.
Over the past 30 years Malta has managed a fishing zone of 25-miles around the Maltese Islands. However EU law states that although member states may keep the first 12 miles from their shore baselines exclusively to their own nationals, beyond this point, fishing should be free from restrictions for all EU fishermen.
Asked for his reaction to the Labour Partys criticism that government has won nothing from the EU but only lost its right to manage the 25-mile zone Minister Zammit remarked that the Opposition was only misleading the public.
Mr Zammit said, "After thorough studies the negotiated package has established that the fishing effort within the 25-mile zone should not increase therefore Maltese fishermen who have been fishing in the zone will continue to do so without added competition unless they give up their licence."
However, Mr Portanier was sceptical. "Fishermen need direction at this point."
The fishing expert said that a number of meetings were being held between the fishermen and the Malta-EU Information Centre to explain the particular situation for each and every category. Mr Portanier explained, "Not all fishermen fall within the same categories each with different requirements and problems, which have to be tackled in order to allow abidance to the new regulations."
Ivan Portanier pointed out that there are between 50 to 60 boats over 12 metres in length, which makes them ineligible to fish within the 25-mile zone. Taking exception to the argument that these, only form a small percentage of the current Maltese fishing fleet, Mr Portanier explained the number is small if taken as a percentage of the total amount of registered fishing vessels.
"The total amount includes fishing vessels owned by amateur fishermen, who register their boats as belonging to part-time fishermen to pay a reduced registration fee," Mr Portanier said. He continued, "In reality the 50 to 60 boats form 95% of the total full-time fishermen in Malta."
Asked to comment about these particular boats, which will have to downgrade or upgrade accordingly, Minister Zammit said that government would be offering Lm2.5 million in direct aid for these boats to become competitive with their EU counterparts.
Mr Portanier emphasised that not all fishermen will be hit in the same manner. "Some have always been conscious of not possessing full equipment and with the new funding they feel they will be able to make use of free cash to make the long-awaited alterations. But those who do have fully equipped boats will have to down-size somewhat and this is to their detriment," Mr Portanier added.
And for the seasoned fishing expert the crux of the matter lies in enforcement. "Patrolling the open seas will have to be carried out seriously in order to ascertain that these new regulations are upheld through and through," Mr Portanier cautioned.