Sea slime and serious allegations placing Maltese fish farm operators and departmental heads at the centre of the international illegal tuna trade have done nothing to slow the industry down, with the Planning Authority approving a permit that will see tuna cages increase from 12 to 24.
The temporary permit, which is in place until one in the aquaculture zone in the North is issued, will also see the relocation of pens belonging to Azzopardi fisheries 5km away from the Qawra shore. The permit is valid for five years and was subject to a planning gain of just 60,000.
In their application, Azzopardi Fisheries said the increase was required because the number of fish they are permitted to catch is double what can be kept in present cages. Last month, Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries Clint Camilleri increased Malta’s national tuna-catch quota by 34,000 kilos (34 tonnes).
Fish farmers often find themselves at the centre of controversy, with the industry’s penchant for staining Maltese coastlines with sea slime and sludge causing significant damage to the environment and the country’s touristic product.
After years of seemingly unwillingness to admit the sea slime was coming from fish farmers, an ERA report confirmed the fact to Environment Minister Jose Herrera, who said he would be taking steps to ensure irregularities committed by fish farm operators were stopped.
Biologist Adrian Mallia, who spoke on behalf of the applicant, said that each cage produces an estimated 275 kilos of oil daily
Tuna farm operators (Mare Blu and MFF) have been under the microscope after serious allegations emerged against them and the director-general of the Fisheries Department Andreina Fenech Farrugia. Azzopardi Fisheries was not linked in any way to the claims.
Fenech Farrugia was accused of having potentially obtained payments from Spanish tuna-magnate and Mare Blu Director Jose Fuentes to use her influence, while MFF was implicated in the ring as “one of the suppliers of tuna illegally caught and fattened” in Malta.
The revelations form part of a broader pan-European investigation, dubbed Operation-Tarantelo, which has so far seen the seizure of more than 80,000 kilos of bluefin tuna and the arrest of 79 individuals, with the estimated value of the illegal trade standing at €25 million.
Both Fenech Farrugia and MFF LTD, owned by former Elbros owner Saviour Ellul, have denied the claims.