PN proposes 'mediating group' to help fishermen better access EU funds

PN MEP candidate Peter Agius said that the majority of allocated EU Fisheries funds were not being used to train local fishermen or to upgrade their equipment and their boats, but rather to public structural needs
 

Nationalist Party MEP candidate Peter Agius presented four proposals in a bid to strengthen the voice of Maltese fishermen in Europe
Nationalist Party MEP candidate Peter Agius presented four proposals in a bid to strengthen the voice of Maltese fishermen in Europe

The Nationalist Party is proposing a Fisheries Local Action Groupto handle bureaucratic issues related to EU funds and to offer direct assistance to local fishermen

The Nationalist Party has proposed the creation of a mediating group to help Maltese fishermen better access EU funds and other forms of direct assistance.

PN MEP candidate Peter Agius said that presently the majority of the allocation of EU Fisheries funds, amounting to €21 million, is used on structural investments for public needs, with very few of these funds being invested in training and the upgrading of equipment and boats by local fishermen.

"The main reason is that many fishermen deem it too complicated to apply for EU funds and to actually benefit from them,” Agius said.  “The government is spending these funds on slipways, scales, propellers and technical equipment. However, we need to use these funds to continue investing in the Maltese fishing fleet."

Agius was speaking at a press conference in Marsaxlokk alongside PN fisheries spokesperson Edwin Vassallo.

"The Nationalist Party is proposing the creation of a Fisheries Local Action Group (FLAG), based on the French model, which would be responsible for handling bureaucratic issues in relation to EU funds and offer direct assistance to local fishermen in order to facilitate their application to EU funds. FLAG would also address governmental inefficiency, as administration of EU funds would be delegated to it," Agius said.

The MEP candidate said that it was becoming increasingly difficult for young fishermen whose families do not have fish quotas to enter into the fishing industry.

"We can assist new entrants in purchasing equipped vessels and in obtaining fish quotas and permits to fish for tuna and swordfish by facilitating their access to guaranteed loans by the government with nominal interest rates nearing zero. We need to exploit the possibilities of the EU Regulation on Fisheries which allows the provision of direct assistance of up to €75 000 to young fishermen when purchasing vessels," Agius said.

He added that such a measure had successfully been used in other EU countries and that Malta needed to follow suit to ensure that young fishermen continue to provide fresh fish to Maltese families.

The Nationalist Party also called for more proportionate and transparent penalties, with warning preceding any financial penalties.

"Several fishermen complain of different or excess application of penalties in case of infringements of fishing rules and fish quotas. Although enforcement of rules is important, this must be carried out with utmost transparency and penalties should be proportionate to the infringement and the particular circumstances of the case," he said.

The MEP candidate said that the stock of Maltese fishermen was ageing and that some of these had difficulties in reading and writing, pushed to quit from being self-employed due to being unable to conform to EU rules or to use digital equipment.

"There are cases of fishermen who are being pushed to quit from being self-employed and work with other fishermen or abandoning the trade altogether, because it is difficult for them to conform to EU rules on catch reporting in the logbook at sea or to use technical, digital equipment or machinery.

"It is simply not fair that those who practised their trade all their life are being forced to abandon it solely because of the fear of being subject to severe penalties if they do not fill in the logbook at sea. The PN suggests that the Fisheries Department initiates a process whereby fishermen who declare that they have difficulties in reading or writing are given the possibility of conforming with the rules on catch reporting using alternative means," Agius said.

He argued that since everything related to fishing, from the size of fish hooks to the length of fishing seasons is decided in Brussels, the Maltese fishermen should have a strong representation in the European Parliament.

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