By Poly Pantelides
A MARINE research body has warned against a ruling party bill aiming to liberalise the fishing sector and allow the use of bigger nets despite problems of overfishing.
Nireas Marine Research said this week that opening up the field does not serve the interests of coastal fishermen, and could only serve the interests of a handful of individuals or companies.
“The seas and marine wealth is a common good, and as such belongs to everyone and no one. The state is obliged as the manager of this common good to secure it to future generations,” Nireas said.
Ruling party DISY has submitted a bill in parliament, due to be discussed this coming week, proposing to liberalise the field and allowing the use of big encircling nets, or purse-seining, which catch schools of fish with a circular wall of nets. Former ruling party AKEL has in its turn submitted a bill to ban their use.
Just this week, around 150 fishermen protested outside the agriculture ministry after hearing that a licence for purse-seining had been granted. Although Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis denied that such a licence was given, he said the fisheries department had been instructed “to carry out a detailed study concerning the topic”.
“For years now, Cyprus’ professional coastal fishermen have been talking of reduced fish stocks, while the marine research and fisheries department’s latest survey refers to the great extend of the problem,” Nireas said.
In fact, the fisheries department has been running a number of programmes in collaboration with the EU to encourage fishermen to opt out of the profession. The programmes are a response to overfishing and dwindling fish stocks, which endanger the livelihood of both the fishermen and marine life – such as dolphins – also needing a sustainable fish population to survive.
Up to 80 licensed fishermen operating small vessels are expected to opt out of the job this year, whereas previous programmes have seen a reduction in trawlers and fishermen licensed to operate vessels longer than 12 metres. There are currently 450 licensed fishermen in Cyprus.
And though DISY wants to liberalise the industry, the United Nations and the European Commission regulate regional and national fishing, from imposing fishing quotas to specifying fishing methods or fishing seasons.