Government calls on European Commission to fend off Tunisian poachers

Fisheries Parliamentary Secretary Clint Camilleri said that a permanent solution to the current poaching of Maltese catches will be discussed in next meeting of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean

The situation is tense with Maltese fishers reporting being threatened by the Tunisians wielding machetes and Molotov cocktails
The situation is tense with Maltese fishers reporting being threatened by the Tunisians wielding machetes and Molotov cocktails

Following MaltaToday's story of war on the high seas, where Tunisian poachers go so far as to ram Maltese fishing vessels and stealing lampuki from Maltese floats, the government said that it had taken the issue to the European Commission.

Clint Camilleri, writing in MaltaToday, said, "The European Commission has taken the view that a spatial dispute does indeed exist between Maltese and Tunisian fishers on lampuki fishing, and is therefore expected to raise the issue in the next meeting of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) in Greece."

Camilleri, the Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries said that beyond the 25-mile radius from Maltese shores, in which the Armed Forces could intervene, the Maltese government had little power.

"This is not to say that we intend to sit on the fence, and indeed finding a long-term solution to this matter sits up there among our topmost priorities. Nevertheless it is clear that, objectively, this can only be achieved within the contexts of international agreements and forums," Camilleri wrote.

The GFCM is the regional fisheries management organisation, of which Malta and Tunisia are contracting parties—back in 2002, Camilleri said, an issue had been raised with Tunisia and the country's authorities had as a result put a temporary ban on poaching. Camilleri wrote that this is a reason to believe that diplomacy and negotiations with the Tunisian authorities could represent a way forward.

Gozitan crews have told MaltaToday of the terrors they face on the high seas. A Tunisian boat, brandishing a picture of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, and known colloquially as the 'Bin Laden' has rammed local fishing boats in the past, preventing them from accessing their own kannizzati (fishing aggregating devices) whilst other vessels plunder Maltese spoils.

The crews have vividly described the horrors of Tunisian vessels ramming their own, often times brandishing machetes and petrol bombs and threatening Maltese fishermen with violence.

"I wish to assure all fishers that I am well aware of the hardships and threats that they have to face when they are out at sea. It is, therefore, with the utmost responsibility that I reiterate my own and government’s commitment to their well-being, and I shall not rest in my endeavours to find the best possible avenues for helping and supporting them in their work.

"I am convinced that only possible solution to the current problem is clearly to negotiate an agreement with the Tunisian authorities within the GFCM, with the help of the European Commission. This is what I will be working towards in the coming weeks," Camilleri wrote.

He said that the government would be engaging with EU member states to find a "permanent solution" to the war currently staged in the Mediterranean over Malta's fishing capabilities.

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