Fish farms around the island have been moved offshore in time for the deadline, agreed upon between operators and the Planning Authority after a mass revocation of permits last year.
However, there is still no long-term solution in place for the tuna cages in the north, which have been moved but are being held in tow while awaiting permits for a new offshore location from which to operate.
“The PA is satisfied that the tuna fish farm operators have abided by their obligation insofar as all the tuna fish cages have been removed or relocated,” a spokesman told the Times of Malta yesterday.
“The only equipment that remains and is being dismantled are the markers and some rings. The PA will continue to monitor that this equipment will be removed or relocated in the coming days.”
After reports of widespread illegalities and public outrage over an oily slime that plagued beaches last summer, the PA revoked the permits for farms around the island in September, giving them until today to move their operations offshore.
Two companies – Malta Fish Farming and Fish & Fish – have since moved their farms from Delimara and Marsaxlokk to the established South-East Aquaculture Zone, about six kilometres offshore.
A third, AJD Tuna, agreed to relocate from St Paul’s Bay and Comino to a new aquaculture zone to be set up in the north, but as of today, no such zone exists, with an application by the Fisheries Department currently being considered by the Environment and Resources Authority.
An AJD spokesman confirmed yesterday that all rings and cages had been removed, while a few remaining buoys and main ropes would be dismantled by the end of the week, leaving only cardinal lights for navigation purposes.
The company has applied for a temporary permit to operate in the same area as the proposed aquaculture zone – six kilometres offshore – until the zone itself is approved, but it has so far has received no indication from the PA regarding when a decision on the temporary permit might be expected.
The tuna cages are being held in tow until then.
According to the agreement, if no northern aquaculture zone is formalised by July, the cages will have to be moved to the existing zone in the south. This, however, is already at full capacity after the other two operators relocated their cages.
AJD confirmed a survey of the proposed relocation area had been completed, with a report of the findings due to be submitted to the PA and ERA to guide the permit process. Earlier preliminary studies on the wider search area for the proposed aquaculture zone indicated that the area was rich in important coral and algae habitats which are highly sensitive to nutrients which could be released from the farms.
A Project Development Statement prepared for the ERA in February suggested that further environmental impact studies would be needed before the site could be considered to host the aquaculture zone.