Malta's armed forces have been brought in to police seas for illegal fishing, after local fishermen complained that Tunisian rivals were plundering their lampuki catches.
Patrols are being carried out by the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture together with the Armed Forces of Malta and involve surveillance in both territorial and international waters.
The patrols, which the department said are not exclusively targeted towards any particular country, are intended to keep an eye on use of Fishing Aggregated Devices (FADs) in international waters. FADs are manmade objects used to lure fish and catch them.
Local fishermen have claimed that armed Tunisian pirate boats are plundering their lampuki fishing rafts and that their pleas for government protection have been ignored.
In September, the department urged Maltese fishermen and women to film and photograph potentially armed pirates plundering their lampuki fishing rafts because the Armed Forces might not be in a position to come to their rescue.
Complaints about pirates ransacking local fishermen's catches date back almost 20 years. The issue was recently brought back to public attention after former PN MEP candidate Peter Agius flagged it to the European Commission.
According to the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, a regional fishing management organisation that falls under the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, vessels are prohibited from catching fish attracted by an FAD that has been placed by another vessel.
It is therefore unlawful for Tunisian vessels to fish on FADs deployed by Maltese vessels, and vice versa, the government said.
While the AFM has no jurisdiction in international waters, the government said they would be providing assistance and "gathering the required evidence to be in a position to escalate matters in the appropriate fora."
Fishers have also been asked to report and provide any evidence - from photos to video or GPS coordinates - of any such breaches.
Malta petitions EU
Malta, through joint cooperation between various ministries, has submitted substantial evidence collected through official and unofficial activities to the European Commission.
The Maltese authorities have also actively engaged with the European Commission and the European Fisheries Control Agency and discussed these unlawful activities.
Meetings are being held on a weekly basis and developments are expected to be made by the European Commission with Tunisia, as well as at the level of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean.
Through the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Malta is also reaching bilaterally to Tunisia with the objective of solving this issue and protecting the livelihood of Maltese fishermen.
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