Fishers hope for diplomatic solution to Tunisian problem

Malta heads into talks over lampuki wars and theft of kannizzatti on high seas by Tunisian fishers

Photos taken by Maltese fishers of their Tunisian rivals: fishermen who spoke with MaltaToday this week said that some Gozitan fishers have been so overrun, that they are turning back and not even chancing confronting the Tunisians
Photos taken by Maltese fishers of their Tunisian rivals: fishermen who spoke with MaltaToday this week said that some Gozitan fishers have been so overrun, that they are turning back and not even chancing confronting the Tunisians

Malta will be proposing a set of management measures for the ‘kannizzatti’ used by Maltese lampuki fishers who are being chased off their fishing grounds by belligerent Tunisian fishermen.

In talks starting today Malta will propose measures of anchored Fishing Aggravated Devices (FADs) at the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM).

The proposal will be filed by the European Commission, and has been placed on the meeting’s agenda.

The GFCM, of which Malta, Tunisia and the EU are all contracting parties, is the body in charge of fishing in the Mediterranean Sea.

Last September, MaltaToday revealed how Maltese lampuki fishers were being harassed by Tunisians wielding machetes and Molotov cocktails. The Maltese fishermen say their FADs, popularly known as kannizzati, were being over-run by the Tunisians, who use strong-arm tactics to stop the Maltese from accessing their equipment.

Fishers lay out their kannizzati, floats under which fish shelter, along long lines in areas defined by the authorities. The first floats are normally laid out some eight miles from the Maltese coastline, heading out for a further 100 miles.

According to local fishermen, the Tunisians are departing from the port city of Sfax. Witnesses also spoke of a large vessel, nicknamed the Bin Laden, which is called upon by the Tunisians to ram Maltese boats out of the way, as other smaller vessels continue fishing.

Informal talks have already been held at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council between Malta and the European Commission.

“It will also be premature to disclose any further details at this crucial stage since it can undermine the negotiations that will be taking place during such meeting,” Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries Clint Camilleri said.

The GFCM meeting which will run between the 4-8 November, will see Malta trying to find a solution to the current clash between the Tunisian and Maltese fishermen.

Camilleri said the European Commission had 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 GFCM in Greece. “I believe that now is the time for every effort to be made on our part to present a united front, together with our EU friends, and to engage constructively with the Tunisian authorities in the quest for a permanent resolution of the issue,” Camilleri had said.

Since the dispute was laid bare in September when the season had just opened, the situation has remained the same, as more Tunisian vessels are flooding the Maltese fishing grounds.

Fishermen who spoke with MaltaToday this week said that some Gozitan fishers have been so overrun, that they are turning back and not even chancing confronting the Tunisians.

The fishermen said that last year was a successful season for the Tunisians, leading them to invest in more vessels. “They are being completely overrun, and during a period which should see them get a high yield of fish, they are not even daring to go near them,” he said.

Paul Piscopo, from the Fishing Cooperative said that Malta must approach the situation in a diplomatic manner, or else it risks having other countries turning down its requests.

“At the end of the day, they are fishing in international waters, and according to international law, fishing devices that spend more than 48 hours at sea, no longer belong to anyone,” he said.

He also said that the area in question concerns three different countries, Malta, Italy and Tunisia. “Fishermen from all three of those countries have a right to fish in those waters, and so Malta must look to find a proper solution that benefits everyone,” he said.

Piscopo explained how the Tunisians have only recently started fishing for lampuki, but insisted that it has become widely popular, as the country is also exporting the fish to other countries like Italy. “In the same way that we only started to fish for tuna just a couple of decades ago, the Tunisians have seen the economic potential dolphin fish have, and they have the same legal right as we do to go out at sea and fish for it,” he said.

Monday’s meeting will be the 43rd session, and will be held in Greece. The main objective of the GFCM is to ensure the conservation and the sustainable use, at the biological, social, economic and environmental level, of living marine resources as well as the sustainable development of aquaculture in the Mediterranean and in the Black Sea.

The GFCM is currently composed of 24 members (23 member countries and the European Union) who contribute to its autonomous budget to finance its functioning.

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