Fish farm slime advice was ignored for years
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Fish farm slime advice was ignored for years

A slimy sludge ruined bathers’ swimming experience over the last few weeks as dirt, most probably from fish farms, reached the shores. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

A slimy sludge ruined bathers’ swimming experience over the last few weeks as dirt, most probably from fish farms, reached the shores. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Recommendations British scientists made late in 2012 to avoid slime from fish farming activities hitting the Maltese coast remained unheeded by the authorities, the Times of Malta has learnt.

The government has now been warned that the volume of slime reported this year was “unprecedented”, indicating that illegalities have got out of hand.

The 2012 proposals had been made by the Aquaculture Institute of the University of Stirling for the Fisheries Ministry as part of a thorough study on the future of the aquaculture industry in Malta.

The massive spread of sludge believed to be from fish farms is seen clearly in this aerial shot above the south of Malta. Photo: Daniel CiliaThe massive spread of sludge believed to be from fish farms is seen clearly in this aerial shot above the south of Malta. Photo: Daniel Cilia

Specifically targeting slime, usually resulting from the bait and feed used in fish farming, the institute had told the government “it is clear that some difficult choices have to be made” about the future of the industry and its impact on the environment.

“The relocation of tuna farms to deeper waters further away from the shore” had been proposed as was “the restriction of feeding of baitfish to tuna cages during onshore wind conditions in the summer tourist season if alternative solutions are not found”.

The scholars had further recommended that “a review of the tuna offal disposal should be carried out”.

The proposals had been accompanied by a performance calendar on their implementation together with a code of good practice for the industry.

“The industry has always produced slime, which was ‘tolerated’ by the authorities because the volume was small,” a local expert told the Times of Malta. “However, the extent of what we are experiencing this year is unprecedented and indicates that the industry is totally out of control, fattening many more fish than originally permitted,” he added.

The Planning Authority last week admitted that two offshore fish farms were using illegal cages and were holding more fish than allowed. It noted that an appeal had been filed and therefore it had to await a decision before any action could be taken.

“The more fish you have, the more feed you need and the more slime it produces. This is a chain reaction and that is why there is so much slime this year,” another expert said.

Following continued reports of slime affecting the coast, mostly close to tuna farms, pressure is building on the government to act.

Earlier this week, Environment Minister Josè Herrera announced the setting up of a committee to draw up recommendations. No replies were forthcoming when the ministry was asked what need was there for new recommendations when an action plan had already been proposed by Stirling University.

Experts insist there is no need for more “time-wasting”.

“All that needs to be done is to put the industry under control and implement the Stirling measures,” they said. “However, it might be very convenient for the multi-million-euro industry to play for some more time until the new recommendations are issued because, in the meantime, the fish get fatter and summer will be almost over and there will be less complaints from bathers,” one expert commented.

The Maltese tuna ranching industry is considered to be a leader in the Mediterranean with hundreds of tonnes being exported every year to Japan for the sushi and sashimi markets.

Official figures give the gross output of the aquaculture industry in 2014 at €101.2 million. According to the Stirling University study, the industry had a potential of generating about €120 million for the Maltese economy.

ivan.camilleri@timesofmalta.com

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