Fish farm operators have introduced booms on pens in a bid to collect the oily residue from fish feed, as ‘sea slime’ has returned to plague Maltese beaches.

Over the weekend, the Federation of Maltese Aquaculture Producers said the booms had been installed in every cage used by four fish farm operators, who signed an agreement last week, agreeing to a variety of mitigation measures.

Slimy residue from fish feed started to appear along the coast in Marsascala, Sliema and other areas in recent days, prompting fears of a repeat of problems that hit local coasts two years ago.

The re-emergence of the slime was met with a prompt response from the fish farm operators’ lobby, which announced a series of self-regulatory measures to run from August until the end of October. 

In 2016, the widespread incidence of a similar, oily substance led to public outrage and the eventual suspension of permits for tuna farms around the island after they were identified as the source.

The booms are meant to collect much of the residue at source

The farms have since been given new permits to operate in designated aquaculture zones around six kilometres offshore, coupled with more stringent environmental measures to prevent a recurrence.

However, last week’s slime drew particular concern, as it coincided with the start of the tuna feeding season.

Two years ago, the use of a new fish feed with a higher fat content was identified as the main cause of the invasive slime. Four of Malta’s five fish farm operators have agreed to a set of common standards for feeding penned fish.

The booms, meant to collect much of the residue at source, will work together with a skimmer-equipped boat assigned to each pen. Operators will also be setting up a call centre to receive complaints from members of the public and will be paying for two boats to patrol the coast and pick up marine litter wherever they find it.

The four operators – AJD Tuna Limited, Fish and Fish Limited, Malta Mariculture Limited and MFF Limited – have also agreed to appoint an assessor, tasked with overseeing fish farm practices and reporting on their adherence to agreements.

The aquaculture federation has also reserved the right to instruct signatories not to feed their fish if and when needed.

Meanwhile, social media has been rife with photos and complaints about the residue making its way to popular swimming spots like Mellieħa Bay.

Industry sources told the Times of Malta that the situation caught fish farm operators by surprise, as it had come about early in the season while they were implementing new environmental management procedures.

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