Extra tuna “cages” at an offshore fish farm at Sikka l-Bajda are in fact empty rings and will not face any enforcement action, Environment Minister José Herrera has confirmed.

The Azzopardi Fisheries farm has permits for 12 cages, but aerial photos appeared to show 21 on site. The operator has applied for a permit to increase the number of cages to 24, but the application is still being screened.

Dr Herrera said in Parliament last month that the cages would be removed, but changed tack on Monday.

In response to a question by Democratic Party MP Godfrey Farrugia, the minister said the farm in question had only six full cages (of the 12 permitted) and that the remaining rings were ‘collars’ that did not have nets and were not anchored to the sea-floor.

“These are being set up to be towed to the fishing zone at the start of the season,” he said. “Once the fishing nets are full, nets will be attached to the collars for the fish to be transferred and towed back to Malta.”

Dr Farrugia linked the extra cages to the pending planning application and asked why no enforcement action had been taken, comparing the situation to starting excavation on a house before a permit was approved.

READ: An operator applied to double their nets last January

Meanwhile, a parliamentary petition was started on Monday objecting to the proposal to increase the number of cages. The petition, which is open for one month, had garnered around 150 signatures yesterday.

“In spite of the fact that the pens have been moved further offshore we are still at high risk of experiencing the same pollution and epidemic of 2016 due to the increase of pens from 12 to 24,” the petition claims. “The authorities seem powerless or have no interest in remedying this situation.”

Azzopardi Fisheries has said the extra cages it is applying for will not hold any additional tuna but will ensure that the fish have sufficient space to allow them to reach optimal size before harvesting.

The company claims this is necessary, as the quality of its tuna has been hit by the offshore relocation imposed by the Planning Authority after tuna farms were identified as the source of the oily slime which plagued local beaches and coastal areas.

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