Mega fish-farm zone relocation off Gozo ‘suspended’ by Anton Refalo

Gozitan minister for agriculture suspends plan to move mega tuna farm nearer to Gozitan waters  

The temporary relocation of fish-farm zones, approved in May 2019, was located 4.5km from Mellieha, 6km from Comino and 7.6km from Qala, Gozo.
The temporary relocation of fish-farm zones, approved in May 2019, was located 4.5km from Mellieha, 6km from Comino and 7.6km from Qala, Gozo.

Plans for the proposed North Aquaculture Zone in the Sikka l-Bajda area, which will host all tuna pens in the North of Malta, will bring the existing fish-farms to a smaller site closer to the Gozitan coastline.

But the new minister for agriculture and fisheries has now asked for the suspension of the application to relocate the fish-farm outside Gozo.

The temporary relocation of fish-farm zones, approved in May 2019, was located 4.5km from Mellieha, 6km from Comino and 7.6km from Qala, Gozo.

According to the present plans, the new fish-farm zone will be located 4.6km from Qala and 5.7km from Mellieha.

An Environment Impact Assessment envisaging the impact of a fish-farm zone around Sikka l-Bajda was already published in early 2019.

A spokesperso for newly-appointed minister Anton Refalo said the minister had requested a review of the relocation of the fish-farming zone off the coast of Gozo.

“The ministry is concerned with both the location chosen which is close to touristic and environmentally sensitive areas, principally Hondoq Bay in Qala and the island of Comino, and also with the increase in size of the area indicated,” the spokesperson said.

“The current fish farming zones already serve the industry well and a further expansion does not seem justified. Once the review is complete the ministry will be making a final determination as to whether amend the application as it stands or withdraw it completely.”

The application’s site area of 3.4sq.km, the expanse of 484 football grounds, will cater for a total biomass of approximately 5,000 tonnes of fish according to details presented in the application up from the 3,300 tonnes of fish catered for in the current temporary zone.

The Environment and Resources Authority has already issued its clearance for the development but has issued a number of conditions, including regular monitoring by the authority and by avifauna experts, and controls on the individual operations.

Birdlife Malta had expressed concern on locating fish-farms in a marine protection area which includes important bird colonies.

The Wild Birds Regulations Unit acknowledged that studies have underlined “a number of uncertainties and data gaps” but still concluded that the project will not have an “irreversible impact” on the three major seabird species, namely Yelkouan shearwater, the Scopoli shearwater and the European storm petrel.

Environmental studies have warned that the potential increase in Yellow-legged Gulls feeding around the tuna pens would end preying on smaller storm petrels.

The WBRU endorsed a number of recommendations including keeping the use of lights to a minimum and the use of downward-facing shaded light sources, minimising the requirements to operate at night and the monitoring of gull colonies if observed feeding at the farm.

Fish-farm employees will also be trained in “appropriate bird handling and reporting”.

READ MORE: Massive new fish farm zone planned off Gozo but details are withheld from public

More in Environment