Operator at Munxar fish farm operating 14 extra cages with permit covering five

An onsite inspection revealed that the operator had 15 cages for sea bream and four cages for tuna, when his permit allowed two sea bream cages and three tuna cages

The fish farm is owned by Saviour Ellul, a director of  MFF Limited
The fish farm is owned by Saviour Ellul, a director of MFF Limited

In 2003 the fish farm at Munxar was originally granted a permit for three tuna cages and two sea bream cages, with a capacity quota of 350 tonnes for tuna and 150 tonnes for sea bream.

But an onsite inspection in August 2016 revealed that the operator had 15 cages for sea bream and four cages for tuna in the same site.

These details emerge from a case officer report issued by the PA’s Planning Directorate on an application dating back to 2008 asking the PA to increase the capacity of the fish farm.

Amidst the current controversy generated by pollution allegedly from fish farm operations, the application has been brought to the fore with the PA scheduling a meeting on 15 September during which it will be taking a decision on whether to increase the production capacity at the Munxar Reef fish farm.

The fish farm is owned by Saviour Ellul, a director of  MFF Limited, which forms part of the Ebcon Group of Companies.

Both the Government Property Division and the Planning Directorate are now calling for a refusal. 

The proposal is to increase tuna capacity to 1,500 tonnes and sea bream/sea bass capacity to 1,000 tonnes. An enforcement order issued in 2014 claims that the fish farm was moved to 550 metres from Xrobb l-Ghagin instead of 700 metres as approved. The terms of the original permit state that the PA can revoke it anytime if conditions are not adhered to. The case officer report states that “the potential for revocation of permit is still valid.”

Relocation to Zonqor still on the cards

The case officer report confirms that the PA and the Department for Fisheries are still seeking to relocate all existing fish farms to an aquaculture zone proposed by the previous government in the south east of Malta. The permit was approved in 2006 on a site six kilometres away from Zonqor point.

The proposal was met by opposition from both the operators and the Marsaskala council. The project was justified by the need to reduce the concentration of aquaculture in the vicinity of the shoreline. Fish and Fish Limited, MFF Limited, the shop owners association of Marsaskala and the Labour-led Marsaskala local council had appealed. Present Justice Minister Owen Bonnici represented the council in this appeal.

The three appeals were dismissed by the PA’s review tribunal. The two fish farm companies appealed this decision in the appeals court, which however also rejected the appeal.

The PA is now insisting that it will not be issuing any permits for an extension of existing fish farms until these are relocated to the site off Zonqor point. The commitment to relocate fish farms to this location was reiterated in the aquaculture strategy approved by the Department of Fisheries in 2014. 

According to the aquaculture strategy for the Maltese islands for the period 2014 and 2025 “a number of farms have obtained a sea-use planning permit on condition that operations are relocated to the south east aquaculture zone,” adding that “their physical relocation has been stalled due to pending court litigation.”  The case officer now states that since the court has confirmed the permit, “the physical relocation of the fish farms is no longer stalled.”

One of the reasons given by the case officer for refusing the application is that it is located outside this designated zone.

Developers claim that financial viability is at stake

The developers insist that the extension of the Munxar fish farm is necessary for its economic viability and its support for international and national research projects which include the Selfdott and Amberjack projects which are aimed at breeding tuna and other harvested fish in captivity. The developers also argue that to provide fish regularly to their international clients they need to have a sea bream farm with a capacity of 1,000 tonnes. 

They also claim that the farm was “slightly” moved for safety reasons to bring the cages nearer to the lighting buoys. The developers also argue that they have already been given a 1,000 tonne quota for sea bream and a 1,500 tonne quota for tuna if they move to the designated aquaculture zone.

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