EU accuses Malta of failing to prevent illegal tuna fishing

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The European Commission has opened infringement procedures against Malta, accusing it of failing to act to prevent the illegal fishing of the endangered but lucrative bluefin tuna.

The Commission said that Malta has failed to comply with the Control Regulation, the Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Regulation and the Bluefin Tuna Regulation. Malta also failed to comply with two recommendations by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) on bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean.

“In particular, Malta failed in ensuring the presence of an effective monitoring, control and inspection system in bluefin tuna farms,” the Commission maintained.

Additionally, audit and verification missions by Commission officials identified a number of serious shortcomings, “including failure to allow access of Union inspectors to waters under Maltese jurisdiction in the frame of a specific control and inspection programme, delayed investigations, limited numbers of random control checks and failure to sanction operators.”

Consequently, the Commission sent Malta a letter of formal notice, through which infringement procedures are formally opened. Malta has been given four months to address the shortcomings raised; failure to do so would see the Commission send a reasoned opinion, which is a formal request to comply with EU law. The Commission may subsequently choose to refer the case to the European Court of Justice, which may impose steep financial penalties.

Sector no stranger to controversy

Malta is the world’s leading exporter of bluefin tuna – primarily exporting to Japan, where the fish is a prized sushi ingredient – but the sector is rarely far from controversy.

Overfishing led to a dramatic fall in species numbers, leading to its classification as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In February 2019, the Director General of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Andreina Fenech Farrugia, was suspended after Spanish police intercepted incriminating phone calls. It is alleged that she helped the Fuentes Group – who own the Mare Blu tuna farming operation in Malta – breach international regulations which seek to save the species from extinction.