There are significant risks of irregular fishing going undetected, the National Audit Office has warned.

The department of fisheries and aquaculture had "no visibility on most of the fishing activities carried out at sea" since physical inspections at sea were very limited, a performance audit by the NAO warned.

Read: Multi-million tuna racket traced to Maltese waters

To make matters worse, only a very small portion of the local registered fishing fleet had remote tracking devices. 

"This Office also observed that the Department’s efforts in conducting inspections on land is largely asymmetrical, with a wide range of the Department’s inspectorate remit being somewhat neglected in favour of a small number of select areas," it said.

For instance, while inspections on catch landings were given priority, verifications at retail stage were severely lacking. The retail stage was "considered as a final level of control for (the department) to detect irregular fishing activity," the NAO said.

It also pointed out that the department has complained that it was severely understaffed, noting calls for applications were not generating sufficient responses and it was experiencing a "relatively high rate of resignations".

However, the NAO pointed out that if the department were to streamline its operations, its staff shortage would be reduced.

"The department also expressed that its workforce could be better trained, though the NAO observed how training provided by the former only reached a very limited number of individuals," it added.

The IT system of the department of fisheries, despite being "robust", was somewhat inefficient. 

"The NAO also saw how the voluminous amount of inspection reports generated by department's officials on the ground are paper-based, which adds to the cumbersomeness of its reporting system," it added.

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