Fishermen are up in arms about sustainability regulations that crack down on the catching of small fish.

The regulations have been in place since 2006 but, as no inspectorate team existed, enforcement was not carried out and so fishermen hardly knew about them.

"Now we have a team, so enforcement can begin. The truth is the fishermen's cooperative was informed throughout the process but they did not pass on the information to fishermen who now think these regulations are new," a spokesman for the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs said.

The rules list different species and the minimum size of a fish of each type that can be caught without having to be released.

Among other things, the rules lay down that fish caught from recreational boats cannot be used for commercial purposes and can only be sold for charity if the necessary approval is obtained. Swordfish caught for recreational purposes should be immediately released and cannot be kept on board or brought to shore. A special permission can be sought for the catching of tuna.

Fishermen taking part in a competition at the Valletta Waterfront yesterday said the regulations were an "obscenity" and had been drawn up without any consultation with any of their organisations.

One of the organisers of the competition said that if the ministry had carried out the necessary consultation it would have been informed that amateur fishermen only account for about one per cent of fish that are caught.

"Education is important but these regulations are not logical. The first thing they should have done is tackle professional fishermen, those who make a living out of catching fish. Many of these use fishing nets in breeding places like ports and bays. That should not be allowed and the mesh of the nets should be larger so that small fish would not get caught," he said.

He added that the government should also tackle the problem of trawling because this kind of practice ruined the seabed.

However, the ministry spokesman also said such suggestions had been taken into account when drawing up the regulations.

A number of fishermen were sceptical about how the new regulations could be enforced.

Taking the white sea bream as an example, one fisherman said it did not make sense to throw such a fish back into the water because it was smaller than 23 cm. "It's simply not going to happen. That kind of fish would fetch about €4.50 a kilo. And usually restaurant servings of about 350 to 400 grammes are about 16 or 17 cm long. It does not make financial sense to throw the fish back into the water."

Another fisherman said he guaranteed that such sizes of fish would continue to be seen at the fishmarkets in Valletta and Marsaxlokk. He said that with some fish it was not feasible to throw them back into the sea because they would not survive.

Another fisherman pointed out that when fish were caught commercially through nets and other methods, the fish would be dead before they were even collected.

The regulations apply to all kinds of fishing but amateur fishermen feel they should not be subject to such draconian measures because their catch is too insignificant to affect the level of sustainability of fish.

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