EU Commission considers enforcement of slime and sludge in Malta’s sea water as national authority issue
PN MEP Therese Comodini Cachia asked a number of EU Parliamentary questions recently, relating to the increasing concentration of slime and sludge in Malta’s sea water which is the result of residue from fish farms.
While saying that the Commission will examine measures proposed by the Maltese authorities to achieve or maintain good environmental status in their marine waters by 2020 once they are received, EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella in his reply also said that based on available information, the Commission considers this (the sludge and slime) to be an enforcement issue for the responsible national authority.
The MEP, in her questions said: “several media reports show evidence of an increasing concentration of slime and sludge in Malta’s sea water which is the result of residue from fish farms and is spilling into bathing areas, thereby polluting the marine environment as well as affecting the quality of bathing sea water in Malta. The same reports claim that there is a direct link between the fish farming industry and the pollution in question. The national authorities have not handled the situation effectively despite being aware of the environmental hazard, and have not effectively implemented rules to safeguard the marine environment and the quality of bathing sea water”.
The MEP asked: “Has the Commission initiated an analysis of this situation with a view to ensuring that the highest environmental standards are implemented by Malta? Has the Commission sought information from the Maltese Government in this respect? What process will the Commission initiate to ensure that Malta actively works towards achieving the standards set by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and specifically towards obtaining Good Environmental Status (GES) for EU marine waters by 2020?”
EU Commissioner for the Environment Karmenu Vella said that the Commission is following the media reports and is “closely monitoring the developments”.
“Based on available information, the Commission considers this to be an enforcement issue for the responsible national authority, while taking note of more recent media reports on remedial action having been taken. Beyond the specific events referred to by the Honourable Member, a regular reporting system is in place to ensure compliance by Member States with EU rules on environmental impact and water quality regulations”.
When reporting to the Commission under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive in 2013 and the Water Framework Directive in 2011, Malta identified aquaculture as a pressure, among others, which impacts its marine waters, he said. “More specifically, Malta's recently adopted River Basin Management Plan includes estimates of eutrophication, contaminants release and hydro-morphological changes attributed to aquaculture”.
“It also includes measures to limit the impact of aquaculture by reinforcing the permits given to the operators. The Commission is now evaluating this plan together with those of the other Member States”.
He said that the Commission has also provided guidance to encourage the sustainable development of the aquaculture sector in full respect of EU water quality regulations.
“Finally, the Commission will examine the measures proposed by the Maltese authorities to achieve or maintain good environmental status in their marine waters by 2020 once they are received, to ensure that Maltese authorities are taking efficient actions to address the pressure identified”.
Four fish farm operators had their 10 development permits unanimously revoked by the Planning Board given that their operation was in breach of planning conditions to the detriment of the environment and negatively impacting the coastal bathing water. The respective fish farm operators have up until 31 December 2016, to completely relocate their tuna structures and operations to the approved aquaculture zone in the south of Malta.
Earlier this month, the Planning Authority confirmed that two of four fish farm operators are fully compliant with the unilateral declaration they made with the Authority on how and when they were to remove their respective fish farms. The two operators, Malta Fish Farming Ltd and Malta Mariculture Ltd removed two twenty meter diameter cages and 2 fifty meter diameter cages respectively. The other two operators, Fish&Fish Ltd and AJD Tuna Ltd were at the time not fully compliant, however also removed one and two fifty meter diameter cages respectively. Fish&Fish Ltd also emptied out two other fifty meter diameter cages and was awaiting the Fisheries Department to provide the exact co-ordinates where to move the cages to.