The Malta Independent 18 August 2019, Sunday

PA expected to decide on application doubling cages at fish farm

Kevin Schembri Orland Thursday, 16 May 2019, 07:16 Last update: about 4 months ago

The Planning Authority will today decide on an application to extend an existing temporary tuna farming area at a parcel of sea approximately 5km off the Northwest coast of Malta, “retaining the approved total biomass of fish,” thus meaning that the amount of fish won’t increase.

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.”

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“The proposal consists in 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.” the report read. The report also notes that this site is a temporary solution until the new north Aquaculture Zone being planned by the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture is set up.

The Planning Directorate said about the application, that the proposal is an interim solution until an appropriate location to accommodate the North Aquaculture Zone is approved and established.

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 object to the increase in tuna pens “in the temporary location which is in the North East of Malta. This tuna farm is located outside St Paul’s Bay, Qawra and Ghallis and the operators are requesting to double the number of pens from 12 to 24 to the detriment of the residents, swimmers and causing damage to the marine environment through oil slicks, fish residue and waste products from the tuna confined to these pens.”

The case officer’s report read that the site is located within a Natura 2000 site: Zona fil- Bahar fil- Grigal ta’ Malta designated as a Special Area of Conservation International Importance.  An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and an Appropriate Assessment (AA) were submitted and reviewed by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA).

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 mitigation 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.

The case officer recommends that the application be granted, but also proposes the inclusion of a number of conditions.

The issue of fish slime from the fishery cages around The Maltese islands has caused concern for a number of summers, with the operators last year being made to fix certain issues that were found.

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