Fish farm operators are exploring “alternatives” to the current practice of dumping tuna heads, tails and guts into the sea, representatives have confirmed.
The tuna by-products, which account for as much as a quarter of the farmed fish, are currently disposed of beyond the 12 nautical mile limit, in line with veterinary regulations.
According to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on plans for a formal offshore aquaculture zone off the north of Malta, the possibility of ending this practice by incinerating the material had to be discounted as the abattoir incinerator was deemed too small to handle the volume of waste generated by the tuna farms.
Nevertheless, authorities are holding discussions with the Federation of Aquaculture Producers to identify alternative options to re-use the discarded material. This would then form part of the conditions in the tuna farms’ environmental permits.
We are trying to transform waste into a resource
Federation CEO Charlon Gouder on Wednesday told Times of Malta the group had engaged consultants and was considering options including re-use for fish oil, pet food and medicinal products.
“We are trying to transform our waste into a resource,” Mr Gouder said.
The plans for a new aquaculture zone off Sikka l-Bajda, submitted by the Fisheries Department and currently being assessed by the Planning Authority, follow the revocation of the tuna farms’ operating permits amid public outrage over an outbreak of coastal sea slime in 2016.
All operators have since relocated to new offshore sites, and the Fisheries Department application would formalise a site currently occupied by Azzopardi Fisheries on a temporary operating permit.
The EIA, newly published for public consultation, indicates that the extent of any environmental impacts would be largely dependent on the effectiveness of mitigation measures put in place by operators.
The report identified several potential impacts including on water quality, marine ecology, seabird populations, as well as human activities, largely as a result of sea slime in coastal areas.
These impacts, it said, “may be of major significance under certain circumstances, but a degree of uncertainty or a range of possible conditions do not allow the impact to be conclusively defined”.
On sea slime, the report said the significance would depend on the amount of fish oil released during feeding, the amount of oils that escape the farm and the collection systems deployed to counteract this issue.
Operators announced last summer that they had introduced booms around their pens to collect the oily residue, having already signed an agreement on a variety of mitigation measures aimed at preventing a recurrence.
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