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Maltese Govt Proposes Alternative Aquaculture Zone

MALTA - The government plans an 'alternative' northern zone for tuna farming as objections have been raised to a previous plan for a more southerly zone.

The government is laying the groundwork for an 'alternative site' for the disputed aquaculture zone earmarked for the south of Malta off Marsascala, according to Malta Independent.

The Veterinary Affairs and Fisheries Division has published an EU-wide tender for the "preparation of an alternative site assessment for a north aquaculture zone in Malta".

Current Malta Environment and Planning Authority policies have relocated all tuna-penning activities further offshore, as is required by the development permits for existing tuna penning operations.

It is standard to have fish farms operating at least six kilometres away from the shore.

The Division has already applied for the establishment of specific aquaculture zones, one six kilometres off Marsascala and another toward the north of the island.

The tender, however, makes no mention of 'additional' but, rather, refers to an 'alternative' site, indicating the authorities could be backing down from plans for the southern aquaculture zone following stiff opposition to the location off Marsascala from the GRTU, the Marsascala Shop Owners Association and the Marsascala local council.

It could also be looking for additional input, or an alternative view, on its current plans for a zone to the north of Malta, and as such could still be contemplating two aquaculture zones – one to the north and another to the south, a prospect certain to sound environmental alarm bells as the controversy over pollution from fish farms intensifies.

The fish farming controversy reached new levels in summer, with many arguing that the farms were drastically reducing biodiversity in the sea, while the inhabitants of Marsaxlokk and Marsascala have complained that the farms are producing various forms of pollution that is harming the environment.

Nature Trust Malta's Vincent Attard recently urged the government "to keep its word and continue the process of moving the tuna farms further out to sea".

"Tuna penning closer to our shores is having a negative impact on coastal and marine ecology, polluting the surrounding areas and negatively effecting tourism.

"A couple of years ago, the government said that all farms would be moved further offshore. However, to date all the farms – both those in the north as well as those in the south of the islands – are still located close to our shores.

"Moreover, the tuna is captured in its infancy. It is fattened up, killed and then exported. Where is the sustainability of the species in all this? The pattern taking shape parallels that of climate change.

"We often considered the situation before finally concluding that we need to act now in order to safeguard the environment of the future. If we wait any longer, our waters could suffer the same fate in being entirely different from what they were a few decades ago. One only has to look at the variety, or lack thereof, of fish out there for consumption to note the dramatic changes taking place in maritime ecology."

Malta Independent reports that EU countries such as Malta, Italy and Spain, which run some of the Mediterranean's and the world's largest tuna farm operations, recently managed to bloc an EU initiative that was to see the bloc vote in favour of a proposed international trade ban on tuna to be discussed in March at the next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The United States recently said it would back the ban, while Monaco, which first tabled the initiative, has confirmed it would be pushing ahead with its efforts to secure the trade ban.

the Fish Site Editor

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