The Malta Independent 26 May 2019, Sunday

PA approves application to double tuna farming area

Thursday, 16 May 2019, 12:19 Last update: about 9 days ago

The Planning Authority today approved an application to extend an existing temporary tuna farming area at a parcel of sea approximately 5km off the Northwest coast of Malta.

However the volume of “approved total biomass of fish”, which is of 3,300 tonnes at caging, will remain the same, thus meaning that the amount of fish being farmed won’t increase.

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The project had been recommended for approval by the case officer, and in the end only E-NGO representative Annick Bonello voted against the project.

Currently, the tuna penning operations in the North consists of two installations of six cages each located in close proximity to each other and utilising the same area of sea. Some of the moorings are also common to the farms such that the entire operation of 12 cages effectively functions as one farm, the case officer’s report reads.

The exact site is approximately 5km away from the headland at Dahlet ix- Xilep where the water depths range from 45 metres to 50 metres. “the sea bottom predominantly consists of biocenosis of coarse sands and muddy heterogeneous sediment.”

The approved proposal would see the addition in number of cages of an existing tuna farm operation from 12 to 24 cages. This proposal ensures that the existing cage space is improved to optimally support the tuna quota, but the applicant noted in the hearing that since the biomass of fish would not increase then the amount of oil output would not increase either.

Studies and hydro-dynamic modelling carried out noted that around 7.2 cubic metres of oil is released from each cage each day and modelled where the oil would go if it is not controlled, to emphasise the need for measures to control the said oil.

A study on the effect that the new farms would have on birds noted that the impact on the four breeding seabird species - the main one being the Shearwater - would be in terms of competition of space - although this was noted to be minor considering that the farm is some five kilometres away from bird colonies at Ahrax - and light pollution, wherein measures were being take to make sure that light output is kept to a minimum.  The study also found that a monitoring programme was needed to see the impact that an increase in seagulls would have on the resident species.

There could also be an aircraft wreck close to the location, but there is a buffer of at least 100 metres between the wreck and the superintendance, and the planning directorate specified that any wrecks that they come across have to be preserved as per the cultural heritage act.

The proposal was recommended for approval on the basis of the fact that the biomass of fish is not being increased, that the project is in line with aquaculture legislaton and the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development.

This particular application had seen a number of representations from the public filed, including from the Partit Demokratiku and Din L-Art Helwa (DLH). DLH argued that increasing the amount of pens will cause more pollution and damage to our environment. “In addition, the tuna pens are less than 5 kilometres from land. They should be much further than 5 km to ensure that no waste or slime reaches the shores.”

 

A petition to Parliament was also submitted, where the 1,865 people who signed objected to the increase in tuna pens “in the temporary location which is in the North East of Malta, saying that this will be to the detriment of residents, swimmers, and marine environment.

The EIA concluded that the proposed development could have a significant impact due to, among other things, an increase in oil pollution due to increase in maritime traffic in the area. It also mentions that a major significant impact is also envisaged on the benthic ecology, through loss of habitat (mainly rhodoliths) vis-à-vis deployment of moorings and shading effects (during operation); and that the introduction of alien species and disease-causing organism is considered to vary from major to insignificant residual impact from the proposed development on the ecology.

“The Introduction of bird species as a result of increase in abundance and diversity of small fish species, and the increase in population of Larus michahellis (Yellow-legged Gull) which threatens the population of the Hydrobates pelagicus (Storm Petrels) is also considered to vary from major to not significant. With regards to marine archaeology, a major to not significant impact is envisaged on the buried artefacts.”

The case officer notes that a number of mitigation measures were proposed within the report, including that the mooring design be optimised to ensure against drifting during storms, the deployment of permanent oil booms inside each cage and use of oil skimmers, and other measures. 

“ERA concluded that the proposed development is unlikely to have significant residual impacts, when considering: The temporary nature of the farm until the North Aquaculture Zone is set up; the temporary and seasonal nature of the operational activities; that most of the identified impacts are of a reversible nature; and that the operations are restricted to small portion of the total area of the Special Area of Conservation and Special Protected Area.”

 

“This conclusion is being made on the understanding that stringent mitigation measures and pre-emptive safeguards will be implemented throughout both deployment and operation of the fish farm. Conditions were include to ensure, among other things, that the integrity of the Natura 2000 site is maintained,” the ERA said.

A Planning Gain of €60,000 was imposed on the applicant after a proposal to reduce this to €30,000 was rejected unanimously by the PA Board.

 

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