[WATCH] Minister insists diplomacy is key, as plundering of lampuki fishing grounds by Tunisians continues

Malta to raise issue of Tunisian poachers plundering Maltese lampuki catches in Mediterranean forum as Fisheries Minister insists Malta doesn’t want to create conflicts with Tunisian boats 

Malta is not keen on sending out its military to prevent the plundering of Maltese lampuki catches by Tunisian fishers, opting instead for a diplomatic solution, Fisheries Minister Anton Refalo said.

Despite earlier promises that the Armed Forces of Malta will be patrolling the high seas to protect Maltese fishers, Refalo told MaltaToday that the first step towards solving the issue will be diplomacy.

In August, fisheries director Alicia Said had said that Armed Forces of Malta vessels would be carrying out observation roles to report acts of poaching by rogue Tunisian fishers who have plundered Maltese lampuki catches and their fishing devices.

Air surveillance was also promised. 

Despite the promise of observational roles being undertaken by the AFM, fishermen have continued to report Tunisian boats fishing on their ‘kanizzati’.  Fishers have also reported that the AFM failed to dispatch a patrol boat when they asked for assistance.

Refalo said that the fact that fishing was taking place in international waters, a diplomatic solution must be reached. 

“We cannot just send the patrol boats there and create a conflict, no one wants that,” he said.

According to Refalo, the government is at a stage of data collection, where all the relative evidence is gathered in order for it to be presented at the General Fisheries Commission of the Mediterranean (GFCM) later this month. 

“The GFCM is the platform on which a solution can be found,” he said. 

Asked at what stage discussions with the Tunisian government had arrived, Refalo refused to give details in order not to prejudice the dialogue between the two.

Refalo’s promise of discussing the case at the GFCM follows that of former Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries Clint Camilleri last year.

Malta had proposed a set of management measures for the ‘kannizzati’ used by Maltese lampuki fishers who are being chased off their fishing grounds by belligerent Tunisian fishermen.

The proposal was filed by the European Commission. 

READ ALSO: Fishers hope for diplomatic solution to Tunisian problem

Despite the proposal, Maltese fishers who spoke to MaltaToday said that the situation has remained as it was, with Tunisians stealing their catch. 

“Nothing has changed, we are seeing them regularly as we did in previous years,” one fisherman said. 

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 threatened to ram Maltese boats.

One fisher, 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.

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