Sustainable fishing NGO condemns PA’s fish farm ruling, urges zero tolerance on illegalities

Fish4Tomorrow director JD Farrugia says fish farm operators should not be allowed to use their workers’ jobs as leverage to sanction their widespread illegalities

The Planning Authority has suspended a decision on whether to revoke the permits of four fish farms by two weeks.
The Planning Authority has suspended a decision on whether to revoke the permits of four fish farms by two weeks.

An NGO that promotes sustainable fishing and fish consumption has hit out at the Planning Authority’s decision not to revoke the permits of four fish farms in the wake of widespread illegalities.

Fish4Tomorrow director JD Farrugia dismissed warnings by fish farm operators that the revocation of their permits would have deleterious effects on the Maltese economy.

“This is a common excuse that we’ve now grown used to hearing,” he told MaltaToday. “It appears as though we’re building a culture in which everyone can do whatever they please, and then try to sanction their illegalities by warning that enforcement will threaten workers’ jobs.”  

He said that the PA should take a zero tolerance stance on illegalities and ensure that the public’s best interests are put ahead of the private sector’s.

“Aquaculture can have many benefits as a main producer of food for human consumption,” he said. “Like the agriculture industry, it needs to be well-monitored and controlled to avoid any negative impacts it has on the environment and, subsequently, the people who live and frequent the surrounding areas in which it operates.

“Fish farms operate and make use of a common resource, the sea, and people therefore expect that those responsible for the farms operate in a respectful manner.”

Fish4Tomorrow director JD Farrugia
Fish4Tomorrow director JD Farrugia

The Planning Authority board convened on Tuesday to decide whether to revoke the permits of four tuna farms – two off Marsaxlokk, one off St Paul’s Bay, and one off Comino – in the wake of revelations that around half of their fish cages were illegal.

It ultimately decided to give the operators two weeks to reach an agreement with the authorities on how to address the vast illegalities in their farms and to come up with a plan to relocate their farms further offshore.

During the meeting, the fish farm operators’ lawyers warned that revoking the permits will see their clients lose some €150 million, and risk the collapse of the entire industry.

“The failure of the fish farm industry will have a disastrous effect on the Maltese economy,” lawyer Pio Valletta warned. “The PA shouldn’t just consider the regulations, but also the consequences of their decisions.”

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and environment minister Jose Herrera have both criticised the Planning Authority’s ruling not to instantly revoke the fish farm permits.

However, the fish farm operators have found the support of Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, who warned that revoking their permits will imperil the jobs of hundreds of workers.

JD Farrugia told MaltaToday that such logic doesn’t hold any water, arguing that the fish farm operators were well aware that they were breaking the law from the start.

“It’s not a nice consequence, but why were the illegalities carried out in the first place?” he said, when asked to respond to the operators’ economic arguments. “Fish farms have long had a negative impact on the public, and the Planning Authority should safeguard the public interest.”

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