DOLPHINS, turtles and seals destroying fishing nets, and unfair competition from non-professional fishermen will top the list of grievances professional fishermen expect the agriculture minister to address in a meeting later in the month.
Christos Charalambous, chairman of the professional fishermen’s association, said on Wednesday that the group had postponed a protest for September 15 they had announced earlier in the week after they were invited by Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis to a meeting to discuss their grievances.
A major issue, they say, is the destruction of their nets mainly by dolphins and turtles.
“We are talking about massive damage, as each year the numbers of dolphins, turtles and seals are increasing,” Charalambous told the Cyprus Mail. “Especially dolphins and turtles, they pull fish caught in the nets to eat them and this cause nets to tear.”
He added that a full set of nets costs around €160 and that it is not uncommon for a fisherman to throw nets in ten different spots in one night and find them all damaged or destroyed by dolphins.
“Dolphins are very clever creatures. They go where there is food. Of course we are in their own habitat and we mean no harm to them, but we need the state to come up with measures to tackle this problem,” he said.
Up until last year, Constantinou said, fishermen were receiving annual compensation of €950 for the damage but this was reduced to €600 this year.
“We were informed by the fisheries department that as of this year this amount will be paid by the EU and not the government, and that it will be given to everyone, not just those who suffered damage by dolphins and turtles,” he said.
Shortage of fish is another issue which the government tried to address by cutting down the number of professional fishing licences from 500 to around 330.
“But the problem is that some of those professional fishermen, who received around €50,000 to €60,000 each to destroy their boats and give up their licence, have used that money to buy new boats,” he said. “Even though they operate as amateurs now, they are still using professional equipment to fish, and they then sell what they catch,” Constantinou said.
The law does not allow amateur fishermen to sell their catch, he said, but the fisheries department does not have enough staff to make the necessary checks.
In addition, some holders of professional licences are retired doctors and civil servants who have not met the minimum criteria to obtain one, Constantinou said.
To receive a professional licence one has to have at least 150 outings with a boat and have caught 1,500 kilos of fish. Fishermen are then obliged to submit to the fisheries department slips from an official block of receipts stating how much fish they caught and sold.
He said that double standards exist. Some, like him, are being scrutinised by the state as to the slips they provide, while others, “who obviously lie” are not being controlled at all. “They use the licences to have free docking rights,” Constantinou said.
The group would like to see a bill aiming to regulate such issues which was tabled four years ago finally put to the vote.
“The minister invited us to a meeting on September 20 to discuss these issues. Depending on how it goes, we will decide whether to proceed with measures or not,” Charalambous said.