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Muscat in meeting with angry fishermen

Muscat in meeting with angry fishermen. Video: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Joseph Muscat this afternoon heard fishermen complain about the "storm" they had to endure over the past few years at the hands of "an arrogant" administration.

In a hall packed with Marsaxlokk fishermen, Dr Muscat said a Labour government will have a minister solely responsible for fisheries and agriculture.

But the Labour leader made it clear that fisheries was heavily regulated by the EU and any government will have to manouvre within constraints.

The meeting was held at Pompei Hall in Marsaxlokk and the media were only allowed in for the introductory speeches. A Labour spokesman said it was the fishermen who requested to have the question and answer session behind closed doors.

In his introductory speech Dr Muscat said that within EU constraints, a Labour government will ensure fishermen benefit from all the advantages. "If there are EU funds to spend we will use them to help you expand not remove your boats," he said, to applause.

Dr Muscat said it was a mistake to have agriculture and fisheries merged into a massive ministry because this reduced the political focus.

A new government will have a politician responsible only for agriculture and fisheries. He also promised more consultation and pledged to set up a consultative board on fisheries that will meet at least once a month. In this way, the minister will regularly meet fishery sector representatives, he added.

Dr Muscat said that in principle, a Labour government agreed that EU-imposed closed seasons should be accompanied by compensation.

Ray Bugeja from the Koperattiva Nazzjonali tas-Sajd said he had little good news to share because fishermen were facing their biggest storm yet. "It is not a storm caused by the weather because we are used to those and we know that sunshine will return. It is a storm imposed by those who were supposed to have been managing this sector."

In a short introductory speech Mr Bugeja said there was lack of dialogue at government level, which he described as "organized disorganization".

Because of mismanagement, he added, the government risked losing Malta's 25 mile fisheries management zone. "There is too much political arrogance," Mr Bugeja complained.

Similar concerns were raised by Joe Demicoli from the Ghaqda Koperattiva tas-Sajd, who asked for Labour's plans on dealing with EU.

MINISTRY'S REACTION

The consultative board promised to fishermen by Labour already existed and was consulted before decisions were taken, the Fisheries Ministry said this afternoon.

It said in a statement that the government also sent a representative of the sector for meetings in Brussels.

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