Tracking of Maltese fisheries by authorities almost inexistent, report reveals

National Audit Office report reveals vast majority of fishing vessels in Malta are not equipped with tracking devices

The NAO is concerned that the vast majority of professional fishing vessels are not equipped with tracking systems and the DFA has practically no means by which to remotely monitor the movements of a very large portion of the local fishing fleet.
The NAO is concerned that the vast majority of professional fishing vessels are not equipped with tracking systems and the DFA has practically no means by which to remotely monitor the movements of a very large portion of the local fishing fleet.

A National Audit Office report into inspections carried out by Malta’s fisheries department has revealed that the vast majority of registered fishing vessels are not equipped with tracking devices.

The NAO said that “the vast majority of Malta’s fishing fleet” was not equipped with tracking devices such as the Automatic Identification System (AIS) – installed on vessels which are over 15m in length, the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) – installed on vessels over 12m, and the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), which is installed on all vessels licensed to fish for protected species.

Information and transmissions from these tracking systems are fed through to the fisheries department’s (DFA) control room, which actively monitors the registered activity.

In total, the local fishing vessel register comprised of 2,933 vessels as at March 2018.

Of 196 out of 376 MFAs – full-time professional fishermen – and 507 out of 545 MFBs – part-timers – do not have any of the mentioned tracking systems installed.

Additionally, the 2,012 MFC vessels – which are designated to recreational fishermen, who are licensed to engage in fishing activity but not to commercialise their catch – are not equipped with any of the mentioned tracking systems, irrespective of their size and whether they are licensed to fish for protected species or not. The DFA is now exploring possibilities to introduce a tracking system requirement for MFC registered vessels as from next year.

“NAO is concerned that the vast majority of professional fishing vessels are not equipped with such systems… the DFA has practically no means by which to remotely monitor the movements of a very large portion of the local fishing fleet.

“A very real risk exists that those vessels which would not fall within the parameters subjecting them to the installation of a tracking system, could still be very capable of engaging in fishing activity which compares, if not exceeds, both in quantity and species, that of their tracked counterparts.”

Another 7,416 vessels are registered as small ships (S), which although permitted to engage in fishing by using only limited equipment, could still be used for intensive fishing activities. The DFA however says such vessels fall under Transport Malta’s remit and consequently no tracking systems on such vessels specifically intended for the monitoring of fishing activity are installed.

While tracking systems are installed on vessels which officially declare their intention to target protected species, other equally or more capable untracked vessels may still irregularly target these fish stocks.

The NAO also said that vessels which are not equipped with tracking devices, pose the risk of them going out at sea and engaging in fishing activity out of the official seasons without being tracked by the Department.

“Apart from this principle of limited visibility, NAO here also perceives unfair treatment towards fisherman who officially declare their intention to target protected species while other equally capable vessels which deceivably fail to declare such intentions are left untracked.”

The DFA also is expected to carry out physical inspections through its own RHIB and the Armed Forces, but the NAO said the DFA’s own asset had been largely non-operational due to technical problems: only six inspections targeting six vessels were carried out in 2017, and a single inspection on one vessel was conducted at sea between January and June 2018.

The DFA pays the Armed Forces €390,000 for its patrols.

The NAO said the AFM conducted 224 successful inspections on 197 vessels between mid-December 2016 to mid-June 2018: 95  included MFAs (in 119 inspections), 22 MFBs (in 23 inspections) and 40 MFCs (in 43 inspections). This essentially means that the AFM conducted inspections on 25%, 4% and 2% of MFA, MFB and MFC registered vessels respectively over a period of one and a half years, at a frequency which slightly exceeds one inspection per vessel.

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