An industry raising its own standards | Charlon Gouder

Malta’s tuna industry has demonstrated its commitment to environmental stewardship through its summer clean-up campaign

Malta’s tuna industry often faces criticism for its negative impact on the sea during the summer months with complaints about sea slime or debris that can be encountered on the water.

Undoubtedly, people have the right to enjoy our seas without any inconvenience caused by the aquaculture industry or any other industry. That is my personal position as CEO of the Federation of Aquaculture Producers, and I believe it is the responsibility of all of us to ensure this right is upheld.

Yet it is unfortunate that the tuna farming industry gets to be blamed for a disproportionate amount of inconvenience or rubbish at sea, regardless of the actual causes.

And indeed, the industry may have shunned publicity in the past; and in the process, tolerated a distorted view of our standards. We welcome an open discussion as well as genuine criticism if we are to improve our practices – after all, this is an industry with a presence in international political and legislative forums, namely ICCAT and the EU, and with nearly 1,000 full-time employees in 2021 alone, aquaculture generated a total output of €225 million in 2021 – a 26% increase from the previous year.

It is for this reason that this year, the federation’s operating arm Aquaculture Resources Limited (ARL) embarked on a major, standard-setting, clean-up operation. Unlike previous years, fewer complaints seemed to have been registered in public about debris at sea – especially in areas where prevailing winds bring it ashore.

Was it just a matter of luck? Definitely not: ARL’s successful campaign this summer managed to clean up oil slicks, maritime debris, and other forms of rubbish and waste along the entire coast of Malta. This initiative showcased ARL’s and Maltese tuna companies’ commitment to social responsibility and environmental stewardship in all of their economic activities.

I personally thank AJD Tuna, Fish and Fish, MFF, and Mareblu for supporting and financing this initiative. It brought the entire industry together for a massive clean-up effort that spanned 90 days, during which we collected over 50 tonnes of waste and four tonnes of oil – equivalent to over half a tonne of waste and 50kg of oil, daily, from sea and shore.

All sorts of waste and maritime debris was collected by our teams along the north and south of the Maltese coast: from tuna oil and fish oil to plastics, cardboard boxes, wooden pallets, organic waste, dead fish (including tuna) and engine oils. Our teams used muslin nets to collect oil waste, concentrating it with booms before removing it from the sea. We spared no effort in cleaning up, spending 11,000 man-hours at sea on four different boats, seven days a week, for 90 days. In more complex spills, we collaborated with Transport Malta for immediate recovery. Four boats equipped with specialised cleaning tools monitored and cleaned a large stretch of the Maltese coast.

We worked closely with the local councils of Marsaxlokk, Birżebbuġa, Marsaskala, St Paul’s Bay, and Mellieħa.

We set up hotlines for people to report any inconveniences, and together with the Environment and Resources Authority, we acted swiftly.

We also collaborated with the clean-up NGO Żibel to address an oil spill near Buġibba, demonstrating our commitment to swift action and environmental protection.

Our performance was far from perfect, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. So, I want to express gratitude to our dedicated workers on the boats, both at the farms but also out at sea, who carried out an impeccable job, even in the challenging conditions of Malta's hot summer weather. Their hard work and dedication yielded positive results.

Malta’s tuna industry has demonstrated its commitment to environmental stewardship through its summer clean-up campaign. By actively addressing sea contamination, responding to reports of trash at sea, while adhering to industry regulations. The industry set a standard for responsible and sustainable practices.

My hope is that next summer, other maritime industries will follow suit to ensure that we all do our part in keeping Malta’s blue sea in excellent condition; clean and free from inconvenience. For those who benefit from the sea as a resource, should contribute to its upkeep and cleanliness.