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Italian Fisheries

Following up the last post, on my last full day in Rome, I had to accompany the Ambassador to meet with the Italian Agriculture Minister.  The swordfish issue that my office was sued over was such a big issue that the US had sent a delegation of 15 or 20 Americans to meet with even more Italians to decide on a course of action on limiting Italian use of driftnets to catch swordfish.  They came to an agreement that was pretty restrictive.  Among other things, the Agriculture Ministry would send enforcement officers out with fishing boats to make sure that the fishermen were following the rules.  

My American assistant took the lead on the fisheries issue.  She had served in Venezuela, where she had been responsible for fishing matters.  I had never dealt with fishing policy, and was less interested in it than in other functions of the office, such as nuclear non-proliferation and space.  She took the lead in the big bilateral meeting, which ended with both sides being pretty happy.  

When the results of the meeting reached Sicily, however, things did not go as well.  Most of the fishermen affected by the agreement lived in Sicily, and they felt that the agreement damaged their livelihood.  As a result the took out hit contracts with the mafia to kill Agriculture enforcement officers were controlling them.  In addition, the organized a huge sit-down demonstration against the Ministry in downtown Rome that tied up traffic for hours.  Thus, the Minister called in the Ambassador to request that the restrictions be eased somewhat in order to appease the fishmen, and hopefully protect his enforcement officers from being killed by the mafia.  

I told the Ambassador that because of the suit that the government had lost against the environmental groups, he was not in charge of US policy on the issue.  A district judge in New York was.  Anything the Ambassador agreed to would have to be approved by the judge, and that often meant consultations with the environment groups, who in turn always asked Greenpeace Italy for its recommendation.  

We agreed to a slight relaxation of the rules, which I then sent to Washington for approval.  As far as I know they were approved.  The fishermen cancelled the mafia hit contract and quit tying up traffic in Rome.  However, I was gone before the changes were implemented.  

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