Illegalities in proper palm pruning threaten Malta’s beloved ‘lampuka’

Fishermen claim lack of proper enforcement and diminishing number of palm trees, threaten one of the island’s most famous fishing practices

Government workers pruning palm leaves for distribution to local fishermen
Government workers pruning palm leaves for distribution to local fishermen

With the Lampuki (Dolphin fish) season drawing closer, fishermen are facing an issue that looks to haunt them for years to come, if not addressed immediately.

One of the many tasks ahead of the fishing season, is the collection of palm leaves which are essential for the complete and fully functional construction of the apparatus needed in order to attract and catch the Lampuki.

In order to successfully catch a Lampuka, fishermen prepare rows of ‘cimi’ one after the other, which consist of a palm leaf knotted with a jablo float, attached to a weight anchored on the sea bed.

Lampuki proceed to bask under the palm leaf, and fishermen surround the fish with nets and ensue to haul in the catch.

A fisherman who spoke to MaltaToday expressed his concern on the diminishing number of palm trees on the island, claiming that the improper way of pruning the leaves, makes the trees prone to further damage by the infamous palm weevil, resulting in further loss.

Peter Calamatta, a horticulturalist, told MaltaToday that when pruning the Phoenix Canariensis, spraying insecticide is critical to ensure that the palm weevil does not attack the tree, especially in highly dense areas.

The fisherman also spoke about the illegalities which have ensued down the years, claiming that fishermen resort to stealing palm leaves from public spaces like a roundabout when faced with no other option.

“I know of fishermen that instruct three or four unknowing foreigners that work for them, to go on roundabouts and bring palm leaves from the trees. While the foreigners prune the leaves, they wait around the corner and if any authorities come on site, they run away,” the fisherman claimed.

The fisherman expressed his satisfaction with how the government had distributed palm trees for the upcoming fishing season, through a scheme by which fishermen could apply for a number of branches.

“I really liked the way the government has distributed the palm leaves this year. When you need about 200 to 300 palm leaves for each fishing vessel, it’s nice to see fair distribution,” he said.

Asked if a replacement can be found instead of the palm tree, the fishermen said that it has been common practice through the years as it provides an efficient way to catch the fish, while also harbouring a type of bug that attracts the fish.

Contacted by the newspaper on the issue regarding the decreasing number of palm trees on the island, Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries, Clint Camilleri, said that no type of control in terms of distribution was enacted in previous years.

“Following discussions with the two fishermen co-operatives, the Parliamentary Secretariat through the Departments of Agriculture and Fisheries will be assisting the fishermen by centralising and coordinating the distribution of such palm leaves,” he said.

“The palm leaves being distributed will be pruned from public spaces after being properly examined for the red palm weevil symptoms.”

Camilleri also said that the recent shortage of palm trees was caused by the destruction of thousands of trees by the weevil itself.

“The Parliamentary Secretariat is analysing possible initiatives whereby a number of palm trees will be planted, earmarked to be distributed to fishermen in a controlled and safe way,” Camilleri said when asked about whether the government is looking for a long-term plan.

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