The Planning Authority has approved a new site for one of two fish farms which have yet to be relocated offshore, as the saga inches towards a close.

AJD Tuna sought permission to move six tuna pens from Comino 5.96 kilometres north of Qawra Point and 6.75 kilometres east of Rdum tal-Madonna.

The application, a stop-gap until an official offshore aquaculture zone is set up, was fast-tracked by the PA and was recommended for approval. The environment ministry was also involved in chasing replies from required consultees, according to correspondence on the PA website.

Along with a fish farm in St Paul’s Bay, also operated by AJD Tuna, the Comino tuna pens were the only ones around the island yet to secure a permanent site two weeks after the deadline for offshore relocation.The May 31 deadline was part of an agreement between operators and the PA last September, after a mass revocation of permits from four operators due to years of illegalities and environmental harm.

Under the agreement, AJD Tuna were bound to move to an “approved aquaculture zone” – but the only such area is already operating at full capacity. Plans to create a similar zone in the north are still awaiting necessary studies. The Comino pens – as well as those at St Paul’s Bay, for which a separate application was submitted last month – were removed when the deadline elapsed and have been held in tow since then.

Approval of the temporary permit today, which is valid for two years, will allow AJD tuna to continue to operate until the north aquaculture zone is set up.

Fish farms have been at the centre of controversy since last summer after vociferous complaints about large amounts of oily slime which plagued beaches around Malta.

Operators later admitted the slime was caused by low-quality baitfish purchased from a different supplier. It has been changed.

The PA case officer for the current application, which has been met with little opposition, said the relocation would help to reduce the impact of polluting discharge on inshore locations.  Civil society campaigners have also supported the application after it was amended to shift the site even further offshore to the current proposed location.

The Superintendence for Cultural Heritage raised concerns about possible archaeological sites and WWII remains in the vicinity of the site, and a marine archaeologist is likely to be appointed to supervise anchorage works.

The AFM has also warned that the site is within the army’s range area and cannot be considered a permanent option.

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