Fish farms face emergency enforcement order: two days to present plan of action

Polluting fish farms have two working days to present a plan of action describing how they plan on tackling illegalities

Aerial photos show the slime spreading from fish farms
Aerial photos show the slime spreading from fish farms

The Planning Authority, with the blessing of the Environment and Resources Authority, has issued emergency enforcement order against four operators whose tuna farms are riddled with illegalities.

The notification gives operators two working days, i.e. by Monday, to present a plan of action detailing how they plan on removing the illegalities. Failure to abide by their own plan, the authorities will move in with an enforcement order and take direct action – which could include releasing the fish into the sea.

The operators must provide a “specified reasonable period” by when the illegalities will be addressed.

An emergency enforcement order does not allow operators to appeal.

The Planning Authority confirmed that the emergency enforcement order was served during a meeting that was held between the Planning Authority, the Environment and Resources Authority and the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture with the operators.

“The enforcement orders require, that with immediate effect, the operators will comply with all the conditions stipulated in their respective planning permits. This includes both the number of structures and the operations of the fish farms,” the Planning Authority said.

The Authority made it clear with the operators that the way they are operating their tuna fish farms today is "totally unacceptable and is negatively impacting the coastal bathing water, which is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike".

Two of the tuna fish farms are located in the north part of the island, close to Comino and is-Sikka l-Bajda, off San Pawl il-Baħar and another two are located off the Marsaxlokk area.  

Information published yesterday in the MaltaToday’s midweek edition reveals that three of Malta’s main operators all operate in breach of permits.

The infringements vary from undeclared cage sizes to the breeding of undeclared species.

AJD Limited, which produces tuna at the north of the island and faces an active enforcement, has been found to hold 13 tuna cages, 90 metres each, without the necessary permits.

The operator holds permits for three cages each measuring 42 metres each and another three cages which measure 50 metres. A sixth tuna cage measures 90 metres. The operator is located off St Paul’s Bay.

Fish & Fish Limited and Malta Fish Farming Limited are both located in the south of Malta and both have been served with enforcement notices, which are at the stage of appeal.

Fish & Fish Limited is operating a tuna farm with a planning permit that was originally issued for the breeding of sea bream and sea bass. On site, the operator has 14 tuna cages, each measuring 50 metres. The approved permits are for eight tuna cages and eight sea bream/sea bass cages measuring 20 metres.

Malta Fish Farming Ltd is permitted to produce tuna, sea bream and sea bass. But 15 sea bream/sea bass cages (x20 metres) and a tuna cage measuring 50 metres face an infringement notice. MFF is permitted two sea bream/sea bass cages (x 20 metres), two tuna cages (x50 metres) and a tuna cage measuring 90 metres.

The emergency enforcement notice comes after years of blatant abuse by the operators which went ignored by authorities. As junior minister Deborah Schembri explained during a press briefing on Tuesday, operators only require a planning permit but do not need an operating licence.

Environment minister José Herrera described the slime that has polluted Malta’s coasts as “almost a national crisis”.

The Authority has reserved the right to proceed with direct action if it deems that the operators are not addressing the issue adequately and complying fully with the enforcement orders handed down to them. The Planning Authority also reserved the right to withdraw the current permits.

Next week, a revised legal notice will be published which will introduce harsher administrative fines intended for any planning illegalities related to the sea including illegalities in the aquaculture sector. Daily fines will go up to €2,000 up to a maximum of €200,000 in the aggregate.

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