[WATCH] Maltese armed forces to monitor lampuki fishing grounds for Tunisian raiders

An Armed Forces of Malta patrol boat is lending support to Maltese and Gozitan fishers against Tunisian poachers plundering their lampuki catch

Dr Alicia Said, director of fisheries (centre) addresses the press, flanked by fisheries minister Anton Refalo (left) and fisheries cooperative secretary-general Paul Piscopo
Dr Alicia Said, director of fisheries (centre) addresses the press, flanked by fisheries minister Anton Refalo (left) and fisheries cooperative secretary-general Paul Piscopo
Maltese armed forces to monitor lampuki fishing grounds for Tunisian raiders

Maltese fishers on the high seas setting sail for this year’s lampuki season will be accompanied by an Armed Forces of Malta patrol boat, fisheries director Dr Alicia Said announced.

The AFM vessel will be carrying out an observational role for the Euopean Fisheries Control Agency, to report acts of poaching by rogue Tunisian fishers who have plundered Maltese lampuki catches and their fishing devices.

Said said that air surveillance will also take place. “This regulatory tool for surveillance and monitoring is the result of discussions with the General Fisheries Commission of the Mediterranean,” she said, referring to complaints from Maltese fishers brought up with other Mediterranean nations in the GFCM.

Fisherman Paul Piscopo, secretary of the Malta Fishers Cooperative, told MaltaToday he hoped the AFM will be handling security for Maltese crews.

War on the high seas: Tunisian plundering Maltese and Gozitan lampuki catches

“These are just four Tunisian boats doing the poaching... the Armed Forces will be observing the area and we can then raise any issues in the European fora.”

Fisheries minister Anton Refalo said Gozitan fishers suffered the most from the poaching, given that their fishing grounds extend towards the south, where Tunisian poachers plunder their quarry.

Tunisians plundering Maltese and Gozitan lampuki catches

“Now we will be monitoring the fishing season through the Armed Forces of Malta... the AFM is there to report on what is happening out there so that we can discuss these issues in European fora.”

Maltese lampuki fishers last year said their catches were plundered by Tunisian counterparts in what is a veritable war on the high seas. Fishers reporting being threatened by the Tunisians wielding machetes and Molotov cocktails, and they documented the presence of a large, green Tunisian vessel, nicknamed Bin Laden, which threatens to ram Maltese boats.

The lampuki season is underway and fishers will be out at sea to lay out their kannizzati – the floats under which fish shelter – along long lines in traditional fishing grounds set out by the authorities. The first floats are normally laid out some eight miles from the Maltese coastline, heading out for a further 100 miles.

The angle at which the floats are laid out is determined by Maltese law but the lines extend far out into international waters, where countries have limited jurisdiction.

One fisherman, Arthur Micallef, had told MaltaToday in 2019 that he believed the Tunisians were receiving specific information from Malta on which lines and floats to fish on. “They prey on areas along our lines where the fish is abundant. If I manage to catch around 100 crates of fish from particular floats, until I offload the catch in Malta and return back to sea, there are already five Tunisian vessels in that same area,” Micallef said.

He also noted that Tunisian fishers were using larger nets to circle the fish, which increases their yield. “To put you into perspective, with our nets we fill a crate, with their nets they fill 10. They not only steal fish which should be ours, but proceed to destroy our gear which we spend months working on,” Micallef said.

Other fishers who spoke to MaltaToday on condition of anonymity spoke of constant provocations by the Tunisian fishers. “We had fishing boats threatening us with machetes and Molotov cocktails and some Tunisian boats are also trying to ram ours, in some instances coming as close as two feet away from us,” they said.

Additional reporting Edward Bezzina

More in National