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Malta Defending own Interests as EU Seeks Fisheries Policy Revision

Sustainability Economics Politics +4 more

MALTA - Malta and the European Commission may agree on what the EUs fisheries policy should lead to, but not necessarily on how to get there, Fisheries Minister George Pullicino insisted last week.

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Mr Pullicino was speaking at a joint press conference with the Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, who visited Malta just days after the Commission submitted fresh plans to revise the EUs fishing policy. These plans introduce the concept of maximum sustainable yields, through which fishing for certain species would be strictly controlled and possibly banned for some time to allow fish stocks to recover, reports MaltaIndependent.

But Malta has not been too keen on these plans as they are, although Mr Pullicino insists that the government does agree, in principle, with a policy which aims to ensure that fishing remains sustainable. The governments argument one repeated by Mr Pullicino is that fishermen from Malta and other Mediterranean EU states would be disadvantaged if the same restrictive quotas were not adopted by their North African neighbours.

He said that the concept of a maximum sustainable yield was an ambitious one, and insisted that Malta believed it should be more ambitious by ensuring non-EU countries follow suit.

North African countries share the same fishing stocks harvested by EU members, he noted, and imposing quotas on one group without imposing on the other was not environmentally viable. He added that the plan would also not be economically viable, as EU fisheries suffer while others exploit the situation.

The minister pointed out that Ms Damanaki was appreciative of the local situation during the talks, and in her own address, the commissioner pointed out that she believed that a level playing field was essential for a viable policy.

She said that agreements with non-EU states were a possibility, citing the setting up of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas as an example.

The bluefin tuna season which is set by ICCAT closed yesterday, and Ms Damanaki pointed out that enforcement had improved this year, although she added that the EU now had to control what entered fish farms. Maltas own aquaculture sector is a significant producer of farmed tuna, which is mainly exported to Japan.

Mr Pullicino thanked the Commission for its assistance in helping enforce quotas, but stressed that Malta should not become a laboratory for enforcement. The countrys small size made enforcement easier, he said, adding that he expected the same level of enforcement in other countries to ensure a level playing field.

Ms Damanaki stressed the importance of aquaculture in general, noting that the EU cannot afford to continue importing the vast majority of the fish it consumed. Mr Pullicino pointed out that the two had discussed the recently-published draft aquaculture strategy, stressing that the industry could generate up to 250 million annually in the future.

One other issue raised by Mr Pullicino is the discarding of tonnes of fish to maximise the profits obtained from fishing quotas: the Commission is pressing for a ban on the wasteful practice.

The minister argued that while the EU is proposing solutions such as reducing undersized fish to fish meal, this was not ideal for Malta, which lacked the facilities to render fish into fish meal. Instead, he added, Malta believed that undersized fish could still be utilised for human consumption, although fishermen would only get a marginal sum to prevent them from exploiting the situation.

Ms Damanaki noted that the Commissions proposals on fish discards had two aims: to avoid the discarding of fish and to minimise the amount of undersized fish caught. One also had to avoid the possibility of a black market centred on the trade of undersized fish, she pointed out.