Tuna industry bribing Maltese politicians, says Sea Shepherd founder
Tuna industry spokesman says Paul Watson welcome to prove allegations.
23 February 2012, 12:00am
Sea Shepherd's founder Paul Watson has delivered a scathing judgement of Malta's political class, claiming the Bluefin tuna industry has been lining MPs' pockets to sanction their allegedly illegal fishing trade.
In an interview he gave to New Europe, Watson - who has led expeditions in the Mediterranean to scupper Maltese tuna ranches - referred to the Maltese tuna industry as a "whole illegal enterprise" that has the full support of the politicians "who are being bribed by these tuna fishermen".
Watson said overfishing of Bluefin tuna was making the industry richer by driving prices up as the species is driven closer to extinction, but that the EU, and Malta, were doing little to enforce conservation laws.
"The EU has all the rules and regulations that protect our oceans, however, what they do not have is enforcement. We have a lack of will on the part of governments to enforce international conservation law. They need to get out there and arrest the bastards.
"But, they are doing this because too much money is passing hands under the table going to many politicians in Europe, just like in Malta; there is no question that Maltese politicians are on the take."
Lawyer John Refalo, who represents the Maltese federation of aquaculture industry and launched the High Court lawsuit against Sea Sepherd, invited Watson to prove his allegations. "Firstly, our industry is not an illegal enterprise. We have a number of controls at EU and national level and anyone is welcome to see our operations and ensure we are in compliance with the law.
"Secondly, if Watson has any specific information of this alleged bribery he should file a report with the police. If he wants to allege we are lining MPs' pockets, he is welcome to prove it."
In his indictment, Watson referred to the lawsuit brought against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society by Maltese tuna ranchers for $1 million in damages after releasing over 800 tuna from one of their underwater cages."We were out there last year and the year before, and we found these fishermen breaking the law and intervened. We decided to release their illegal catch, but now we are in court in England because they are suing us for the loss of their catch.
"The ridiculous part about it is that our argument was based on that it was an illegal catch, but the court said that it did not matter whether it was illegal or legal. It said that we broke the law by releasing their illegal catch! So, it seems to be that the courts and the governments are more interested in protecting the interests of the illegal fishermen than to help conservationists to protect that species."
Sea Shepherd claim the cage from which the tuna were released in June 2010 contained 800 tuna caught by eight different Libyan registered seiners on the last day of the legal season, when weather conditions made it virtually impossible for the taking of tuna.
The Maltese tuna company Fish and Fish filed a civil lawsuit for damages in the English High Court, and managed to secure the detention of the Steve Irwin, the flagship vessel of Sea Shepherd, in Scotland. The environmental group paid £520,000 into court to secure its release.
Fish and Fish had estimated that the cost of losing 600 fish, weighing some 35 tons, coupled with the damage caused and the lawsuit, would reach €1 million.
Watson said the Sea Shepherd's rules of engagement are in line with the United Nations World Charter for Nature, which allows for NGOs and individuals to uphold international conservation law, specifically, in section 21(e), in areas beyond national jurisdictions.
During the inaugural Operation Blue Rage campaign in June of 2010, the Steve Irwin intercepted a tuna poaching operation off the Libyan coast. The Steve Irwin was also rammed by a Maltese fishery vessel Rosaria Tuna; photos released by Greenpeace, also on a similar mission depicted fishermen trying to violently gaff its crewmembers with a hooked pole (see picture below).
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.
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