The Planning Authority on Thursday postponed a hearing on plans to double the number of tuna cages at a farm off Sikka l-Bajda, amid bribery allegations against suspended fisheries director Andreina Fenech Farrugia.

Azzopardi Fisheries, which has not been linked to the scandal, had applied to increase its cages at the offshore site from 12 to 24, the company saying they will not hold any additional tuna but will ensure the fish have enough space to reach optimal size before harvesting.

A decision was expected by the PA  but the hearing was pulled from the agenda at the request of the executive chairman, according to a notice sent to interested parties, with no further explanation given.

A parallel application by the Fisheries Department to set up a formal north aquaculture zone, filed by Dr Fenech Farrugia, is still being processed, with a public meeting on its environmental assessment held as scheduled on Tuesday.

Dr Fenech Farrugia is facing allegations, which she denies, of demanding money off a Spanish tuna kingpin. The claims emerged on Monday from investigations forming part of an EU-wide probe into the illegal tuna trade.

The party had repeatedly spoken out against the shady goings-on in the sector

The decision to postpone the hearing was welcomed by the Democratic Party, after leader Godfrey Farrugia had called for the application to be suspended as news of the scandal broke. He said the party had repeatedly spoken out against the “shady goings-on” in the sector, noting that the Auditor General had also highlighted inadequacies and inefficiencies in marine protection last year. 

According to Azzopardi Fisheries, the application to double the number of cages was necessitated by its forced relocation to the offshore site, about five kilometres off Sikka l-Bajda, following a mass revocation of tuna farms’ operating permits after repeated breaches of conditions.

The relocation was intended as a temporary, two-year measure pending approval of a designated aquaculture zone in the same area. The operators said that as a result of the relocation, stocking density in the permitted cages was double that of previous years, such that the tuna did not grow to full size due to excessive competition in a relatively small area.

The total biomass in the farm will remain within the legal limit of 3,300 tonnes.

The application is recommended for approval and the Environment and Resources Authority concluded that significant environmental impacts were unlikely if appropriate mitigation measures were applied.


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