[WATCH] Tuna bribery allegations probed by special committee, parliamentary secretary says

Parliamentary secretary Clint Camilleri said the government was awaiting a report by a specialised committee tasked with reviewing the department and its practices, in order to plot a way forward   

Parliamentary Secretary Clint Camilleri said government was awaiting a report from a specialised committee looking into the fisheries department
Parliamentary Secretary Clint Camilleri said government was awaiting a report from a specialised committee looking into the fisheries department

A specially-appointed committee has been charged with reviewing work undertaken by the fisheries department and with recommending new regulations and controls, in light of allegations of bribery against its former director, parliamentary secretary Clint Camilleri said on Tuesday.

Camilleri said the committee would be taking into consideration reports on the tuna industry issued by the National Statistics Office, the European Commissioner and the Internal Audit and Investigations Department (IAID), and would be issuing suggestions of what could be improved in the sector.

Last February, fisheries director Andreina Fenech Farrugia was suspended by Environment Minister Jose Herrera after leaked phone intercepts by Spanish investigative authorities showed how she had asked a major Spanish tuna operator - José Fuentes García - for payment to allow him to introduce more bluefin tuna in the market than was allowed.

Asked whether any changes had been made in relation to enforcement of regulations and the general administration of the local tuna sector, Camilleri said the government would be looking to implement any recommendations made by the committee.

"We have established a specialised committee which will be verifying anything done in the fisheries department, looking into what needs to be changed, and taking stock of the various relevant reports, such as those drawn up by the National Statistics Office, the European Commission and the Internal Audit and Investigations Department (IAID),” Camilleri said. 

“It will then be working on any changes which need to be put in place, in terms of legislation, regulations, and controls. We are awaiting a report from the experts in this committee."

The parliamentary secretary added that "internal discussions" were also ongoing to see what improvements need to be implemented to curtail abuse, ahead of the actual report by the committee being finalised.

READ MORE: Malta fisheries 'boss' used Spanish mobile number supplied by tuna impresario for confidential calls

He said that new rules introduced by the government requiring that tuna catches to be weighed, in addition to counting of fish had already led to improved detection of abuse. 

"We will continue to bolster our legislation to continue strictly regulating and strengthening the sector," Camilleri emphasised.

Asked about any developments on the Fenech Farrugia in terms of the Maltese or Spanish authorities' investigations, Camilleri did not provide new information, insisting that a magisterial inquiry was under way.

An additional 52 vessels will be licensed to fish for tuna this year
An additional 52 vessels will be licensed to fish for tuna this year

"A magisterial inquiry is ongoing, and we need to allow it to do its work. As parliamentary secretary, I won't be in any way intruding on the investigation," he said.

Tuna quota up by 34 tonnes, 52 new permits given

Camilleri was responding to MaltaToday’s questions after a press conference on Tuesday announcing the opening of the tuna fishing season and the allocation of new quotas for catches.

He said that this year's tuna quota for Maltese fishermen will be increased by 34 tonnes, bringing the total national quota up to 353 tonnes.

The government, he said, would also be issuing permits to an additional 52 fishermen, who will now be able to catch the fish.

The 52 new vessels will join the existing fleet of 63, which will have almost doubled over a period of 12 months.

Camilleri explained that the new tuna permits were being issued to fishermen who had caught more than 400kg of swordfish in 2018.

"We arrived at a just system to strengthen the tuna industry, which currently consists of 63 fishermen, by issuing new licenses to 52 boats who caught over 400kg of swordfish last year, by way of a reward for their full-time commitment as fishermen,” Camilleri said.

Furthermore, he said that those fishermen who were not equipped to fish for swordfish last year, and who hadn’t reached the 400kg minimum quota, would be allocated a 10 tonne allowance, enabling them to catch up to two tuna fish, he added.

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