The Malta Independent 18 April 2019, Thursday

Updated (2): Planning Authority votes for revocation of permits of fish farms with illegalities

Helena Grech Thursday, 22 September 2016, 13:52 Last update: about 4 years ago

The Planning Authority (PA) this afternoon voted to revoke the permits of fish farms found to have illegalities.

It is unclear as to what happens next – whether they have to close up shop with immediate effect. The decision whether to revoke the permits in question was delayed on 1September until today, with operators expected to submit a unilateral declaration on how to regularise their positions and relocate.

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This was submitted and approved, according to PA executive chairman Johann Buttigieg. It remains unclear as to why the PA Board chose to delay the decision on 1 September in view of the submission of the method statement.

The method statement would appear to be void, since the PA Board overwhelmingly chose to revoke operators’ permits – however lawyers representing the PA explained that the method statement would still be a legal point of reference since operators effectively have a permit to operate in the designated aquiculture zone in the South of Malta. Therefore, should the operators choose not to appeal today’s decision within 30 days, they could still follow the method statement and slowly relocate to the aquiculture zone, with the correct number of cages.

Disgruntled operators, coming from MFF ltd, Fish and Fish, AJD and Mariculture, could be heard saying that they will no honour the method statement because they currently have not permit to operate.

A lawyer representing MFF Ltd said that operators had been “duped” by the PA in the way that the matter had been settled. He said that legal advice given to the PA Board by PA lawyers is “bad advice.”

The debate raging on throughout the PA hearing did not relate to the method statement submitted by the fish farm operators, but on why the operators had to extend the number of cages, breaching the conditions of their permit.

One particular operator from AJD said that EU rules did not allow for different kinds of fish within the same cages, therefore he increased the number of cages in order to follow EU regulations. He also said that out of four extra cages, one has already been removed, one is being removed this week and another planned for the following week.

Each operator was requested to give the dates of when they have initially placed cages in their relevant fish farm zones. Each one gave an overview and also pointed out cages that had been removed between the last PA hearing and this one.

An individual from Fish and Fish could be heard saying “we are not cowboys” when explaining that following regulations is no easy task, with separate local fishing authorities giving conflicting rules or often leaving operators without responses when a clarification is needed.

A government-commissioned report had found that several illegalities were leading to the much maligned slime that has plagued many of Malta's beaches during the summer months. 

The fish farms affected by the PA board’s decision are AJD, Mariculture, Fish and Fish and MFF.

All board members voted for the revocation of permits.

Environment Minister Jose Herrera welcomed the news, saying that the PA’s decision showed that the government was strong-willed and did not let these illegalities persist.

The ministry said it had taken prompt action when the reports of sea sludge surfaced earlier this year. Dr Herrera appealed to the operators to adhere to the timeframe indicated to them by the PA to relocate their operations to aquaculture zones further offshore. This should be done in the interests of both the industry and the general public. 

PN reacts

The Nationalist Party (PN) agrees with the decision of the PA to revoke the fish farm operators’ permits, so much so that the Opposition’s representative Ryan Callus voted in favour of this decision, in favour of the environment.

The PN commends the operators for forming a plan to regularise their position over the past two weeks, and have now promised to move the cages further away from the coast, and at the same time respect the environmental standards being asked of them.

The PN waits for the PA to give assurances that what took place this year will not happen again.

AD reacts

Following the permit revocation for four fish farm operators, Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party commended such a decision whilst expressing caution.

"Weak enforcement, particularly in environmental issues, has always been the order of the day, thus leading to a degraded state of our environment. Fish farm operations are no exception and infringements have been carried out for a number of years, resulting in the issue of a number of enforcement orders which in return have been ignored by the same operators. One of the negative impacts experienced has been contamination of our coastal waters through foamy slime thus preventing people from swimming. Moreover, this has caused damage to the country's economy, which is also based on tourism. The dragging of  feet by the authorities only ended after a public uproar," said Simon Galea – Alternattiva Demokratika Spokesperson on Agriculture and Animal Welfare.

"Whilst commending the revocation of permits by the Planning Authority, AD remains skeptic when taking into account the number of related enforcement orders issued and ignored in the past. Revoking operation permits is one thing whilst assuring that such illegal operations cease is another thing. Environmental justice is only restored when such illegal operations truly stop. Where operators fail to cooperate then concrete measures should be undertaken including the  towing away of cages and the release of tuna fish, something which up to this date no administration has had the courage to implement," concluded Simon Galea.

 

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