The head of Malta’s fisheries has been replaced with his predecessor just five weeks after EU officials privately marvelled at how the sector had been “completely transformed” since his appointment.

Two years ago the Maltese fishery was in a very bad place

Joe Caruana will move aside as fisheries director-general to make room for Andreina Fenech Farrugia, who had already served in the role prior to Mr Caruana’s appointment in November 2011.

The decision to replace Mr Caruana took several stakeholders by surprise, with many telling Times of Malta that the local fisheries sector had regained lost credibility since his time in charge.

That claim is bolstered by statements made by the EU Maritime Affairs and Fisheries director-general Lowri Evans in a meeting with Malta’s EU permanent representative Marlene Bonnici just last month.

Ms Evans’ expressed “delight” at Malta’s progress in the sector and recalled how two years ago the Maltese fishery “was in a very bad place”, sources told Times of Malta.

In February 2011, Ms Evans – the EU’s top fisheries civil servant – had warned local authorities that continued administrative shortcomings would likely mean the end of the Maltese fisheries sector.

Mr Caruana was roped in as director-general some eight months after those warnings, and according to Ms Evans, the industry has now been safeguarded. Despite this positive review, he has now been replaced by Dr Fenech Farrugia.

When contacted, Fisheries Parliamentary Secretary Roderick Galdes asked for questions to be sent by e-mail. No replies were forthcoming at the time of writing.

One fishery stakeholder told Times of Malta that the news had sent alarm bells ringing across the sector.

“Malta was completely lacking in credibility in the sector, and we’ve invested a lot of time, effort and money to regain it. We used to have entire shipments of fish stuck in ports for days on end because of paperwork issues and other administrative shortcomings. We don’t want to end back there.”

Another source was more cautious, saying that while Mr Caruana’s management credentials were unparalleled, Dr Fenech Farrugia brought technical knowledge of fish and fisheries to the table.

“I can’t say I wasn’t surprised,” they said, “but we’ve got to get on with it. Hopefully Dr Fenech Farrugia won’t be completely biased towards environmental concerns to the detriment of fishermen.”

But sources from within the environmental sector also seemed sceptical of the personnel change. “Dr Fenech Farrugia seemed more interested in defending Government positions than conservation strategies when she was director-general,” one said.

Another argued that while the appointment was “not good news”, Mr Caruana had not shaken things up as much as was needed. “We’re so used to change taking forever to happen here that every little thing is praised. It’s not enough,” they said.

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