The Malta Independent 2 June 2023, Friday
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Bluefin Tuna - A fish saved, a quota earned

Alicia Bugeja Said Sunday, 19 March 2023, 08:36 Last update: about 3 months ago

Obtaining the largest increase in tuna fishing quota in years, was not only a hard-earned win on behalf of our resilient fishers, but also a unique opportunity for us to chart a new course of growth together.

Last Friday, the Government publicly announced a detailed policy plan, which sought to distribute the total allowable catch for bluefin tuna between all fishers. Through weeks of deliberation and open consultation with all stakeholders, this robust initiative will ensure that the fruit of our recent success is allocated fairly, transparently, and sustainably.

Our small-scale fishing industry, more than any other cultural viewpoint, truly represents the inextricable link between our people and the seas that surround us. Indeed, it’s a microcosm of our nation as a whole: both are small in size when compared to our neighbours, but inherently kaleidoscopic in variety. Both our country as a whole, and our fishers, are willing to engage with new trends and technological developments for the betterment of all; at the same time, we are very proud of the traditional norms and techniques which have stood the test of time for entire generations.

Given both the advantages and limitations of its size, we as a Government are determined the make the most of our existing resources. We need to be ambitious, yet transparent about the global and local challenges that we face. Only then, can we ensure our fishers’ role in this country’s efforts in sustaining our economic growth, supporting local food production efforts, and preserving our maritime ecology.

Once again, our fishing community has been granted an immense opportunity to make the most of our local talent and industry. The tuna fishing quota for the next three years, set at 433 tonnes, represents a 44-tonne increase (or 11%) over the allocation for 2022. This is the biggest jump in quota that successive Maltese Governments had managed to obtain in recent years, and a true testament to our dogged approach in favour of pro-active diplomacy, and our high esteem in which we are held by our neighbours in this field.

In a previous publication on this newspaper, I had opined on the need to engage proactively with all stakeholders. We sought not to rush through the consultation process in a haphazard, rapid manner, as perhaps expected by candidates from the party in Opposition. More haste, less speed.

Our modus operandi during this entire process was based on three pillars: Incentivising further growth, by strengthening the fishing opportunities for existing fishers; ensuring the long-term sustainability of our marine biodiversity, by allowing other types of fish to regenerate and replenish our stocks during the tuna fishing season; and rewarding our fisher’s diligent efforts.  Simultaneously, we will not forget the importance of maintaining a sustainable and regenerative approach towards our fishing. For this reason, our action plan provides new opportunities for those young fishers, willing to take the next step, and see this sector as a viable employment opportunity.

We also opened this type of fishing to other fishers who had hitherto never been involved in tuna fishing. To achieve this aim, we allocated a specific quota for those full-time fishers who are first-time participants in the tuna fishing season.

Recreational fishers are also the beneficiaries of a one-tonne increase in their allocated quota; we recognise the importance of recreational fishery, and we have given these individuals the space necessary to practice their passion, in a regulated and transparent manner.

Moreover, we wanted to ensure that the fishing industry is making the most of this opportunity for economic growth. This increase in our quota can help springboard the introduction of new fishers and private operators, thus contributing further to the regenerative ability of our local fishing industry.

We also acknowledge the need for our fishers to reap the fruits of their hard work. Thanks to sacrifice borne by our fishers during these past three years, we were able to present the best argument to the European Commission, for a just and equal share of the regional quota allocation. We have done this through arguments based on the available scientific evidence, , and we’re committed in using sound scientific advice  as the fulcrum for all present and future management decisions in this sector.

And indeed, what we managed to achieve together, can be construed as further evidence of the Maltese fisher’s strength and prestige in the regional political landscape.

However, such positive developments should not blind us to present and future challenges, both locally and elsewhere. As legislators, as fishers and as citizens, we have a duty to preserve the strength of our natural resources for our future generations. We must ensure that the existing fishing stocks not only remain sustainable in the short-term, but be given the ability to replenish and flourish in the long-term.

This policy plan is the Government’s best bet in achieving the best outcome for all. It’s important that we get this right. We owe it to not only to the present generation of fishers, but also the upcoming one.


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