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Trolling puts divers at risk in Malta


Worried about trolling: Wreck-diving in Malta (Mal B)
Wreck-diving in Malta (Mal B)

Trolling – not online sniping, but the fishing method – is said to be endangering scuba divers in Malta, and now a group of them are getting together to protest about the practice.

Trolling involves one or a number of baited lines being drawn through the water by a fishing-boat at a steady slow speed.

One of the group of some 50 protestors, diving instructor David Agius has told Malta Today that these boats are causing a serious safety hazard to professional divers and the divers they guide, as they troll for surface or pelagic fish in the waters around the islands’ shipwrecks.

“The sound of engines in the vicinity is heard much closer for a diver in the water, possibly leading inexperienced or visiting divers unfamiliar with such noise to panic,” said Agius, adding that an automatic reaction would likely to be for such divers to hold their breath. 

“Holding breath or getting snagged by a fishing-hook may result in uncontrolled ascents, causing extreme danger to the diver, instructor and guides, as well as potentially fatal consequences,” warned Agius.

What is a safe distance?

Previous fishing restrictions have only recently been relaxed around the wreck-sites by Malta’s fisheries minister Anton Refalo. These zones are said to make up less than 1% of coastal waters, so the divers argue that they are not crucial to fishers’ livelihoods.

They want more education and patrols to safeguard divers who, they argue, have been subjected to a number of near-misses by boats in recent years. They also want clarification of maritime regulations.

Fishers are required to keep a “safe distance” from divers under the new rules, but the divers argue that the term is open to interpretation.

“For divers the only safe distance would be outside the small, delineated conservation zones and their shore entrances, which at their largest consist of little more than two football grounds,” Agius told the paper.

And he said that a rise in the number of diving tourists, and in particular the increasing popularity of freediving in the islands, was likely to exacerbate the level of risk.

The issue has been raised on divers’ behalf in Malta’s parliament by MP Ivan Bartolo, though the fisheries minister countered that a balanced approach was required between the needs of professional fishers and divers.

Also read: Magical Malta and Gozo Family Holiday, Part 1, Part 2, Crossing the Divide – Diving in Malta, Enter The Virtual Museum: Underwater Malta

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