Farm fishing in Marsascala

Farm fishing in Marsascala

Almost everybody agrees that Marsascala is one of the most beautiful villages in Malta, providing a dynamic mixture of the remnants of a quasi-traditional fishing village and a sense of innovation brought about by the inflow of new and diverse families. Almost everybody feels the need of protecting this wonderful gem in the south of Malta. Almost everybody. Except for the government.

In the last few months, the residents of Marsascala and the neighbouring communities witnessed two appalling Mepa applications - both of them submitted by government entities - which, if approved and implemented, would have an indelible impact on this village

The first Mepa application was, of course, the much-publicised proposal by WasteServ (Malta) Ltd. aimed at demolishing the existing Sant'Antnin recycling plant and replacing it by a much larger one which would not only house four different "sub-plants" within itself but would also have the potential of treating a much larger amount of waste, something which is definitely bound to happen in the light of Malta's looming obligations under Community regulations.

The second Mepa application, though overshadowed by the Sant'Antnin recycling plant controversy, is equally dangerous and, if implemented, would have a horrendous impact on the locality. I am referring to planning application 00087/04 - subtly called "application for the establishment of an aquaculture zone off the South-East coast of Malta [off Zonqor Point, Marsascala]" - which aims at "establishing an area of sea that is specifically zoned, exclusively used for aquaculture operations and is of sufficient capacity to meet the requirements of new foreign and Maltese operators and those existing fish farms wishing or being required to relocate".

While holding fast to my absolute and unconditional condemnation of the WasteServ Sant'Antnin recycling plant application, I believe that it is important to raise awareness regarding this fish farm application and to emphasise once again that this application is inherently absurd and will lead to the degeneration of the South-Eastern coast of Malta, mainly the Marsascala coast.

By way of background, the aquaculture zone application was submitted by the Director General (Fisheries Conservation and Control) and was validated by Mepa on August 11, 2004. An environmental impact statement was prepared by ADI Associates on behalf of the applicant and its first draft was issued in June 2005.

The rationale of the whole application is to designate an area of sea at a minimum distance of 6.3 kilometres from Zonqor Point within which to farm the Atlantic bluefin tuna. According to the non-technical summary of the EIS, the aquaculture zone has two purposes, both of which are, in my view, unacceptable: to relocate the three tuna farms (existing and approved) in the south of the island and (to add more insult to injury) to entice tuna farming operations currently operating in other areas of the Mediterranean to relocate to Malta. In other words, the government does not merely intent to regroup the existing farms in Malta off Marsascala but aims at attracting fish farms from all over the Mediterranean!

Various entities submitted their comments to the proposal, including, of course, the Marsascala local council. The council objected to the development for various reasons especially in the light of recent negative experiences which the Marsascala coastal area went through when only a few tuna cages (compared to the project) are present. Our sister council of Marsaxlokk also made its valuable comments, as well as the nature groups which provided sterling observations.

The nature groups' comments can all be deemed to be critical of the application.

The objections were various and technical in nature but all of them tackled the projected environmental impacts.

Among other objections, the nature groups commented that a great amount of solid waste will be generated, stating that dead tuna can amount to 80-180 tonnes annually, while offal (heads, tails and guts) is expected to amount to 380-520 tonnes annually. Although Regulation EC 1774/2002 prescribes that none of this waste must be discharged at sea, this might be difficult to enforce. Furthermore, the nature groups explained that the processing, feeder and service ships will generate 375,000 to 560,000 litres of sewage every four months.

Of particular interest is the summary of impacts which may be found in the addendum to the EIS, which lists various predicted impacts, describing the nature, scale and type of the same, among other factors.

The list of adverse impacts is substantial and includes change in water quality of bottom waters from decomposition of fish flesh, impacts from release of blood and offal, organic loading from tuna carcasses, increased nutrients from fish wastes, increased nutrients from uneaten feed, habitat loss through settlement of uneaten food, introduction of alien species and disease-causing organisms vis-à-vis habitats and species, loss or damage of artefacts or deposits, impacts on commercial trawling and long-lining, impact of the attraction of predator fish and impact on current operations.

It is imperative that the public at large gets to know about this fish-farm project because such a project, if approved, would have a considerable impact on the coastal area of Malta.

The government, which is busy fishing for local and foreign tuna farms to be placed in Marsascala, should be given a strong message by all those who have the coastal area and the marine environment at heart.

Dr Bonnici is a Labour councillor for Marsascala.

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