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Aquaculture- from conflict to blue growth: An example of Aquaculture cages re-allocation


There is strong competition for space and resources in Maltese waters, due to the small size of Malta's territorial waters. Environmental issues take priority and an environmental impact assessment is required before aquaculture development is initiated in line with the Aquaculture Strategy set from (2014-2025). This practice provides a detailed overview of a real case study example on how existing marine aquaculture cages were re-allocated to new offshore areas around Malta so as to avoid or minimize the impacts that the feeding of these cages were creating onto coastal activities such as coastal tourism. The practice illustrates the process behind this re-allocation providing a timeline with the steps and measures that were taken to minimize this conflict and to obtain a more sustainable aquaculture in Maltese waters.

Application in MSP:
Type of Issue:
Type of practice:
Stage of MSP cycle:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
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Questions this practice may help answer

What EXAMPLES are available on re-allocation of marine aquaculture infrastructures?

Aspects / Objectives

Aquaculture in Malta is marine-based. It consists of the capture based aquaculture of the Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus thynnus), as well as the culture of European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) and Gilthead sea bream (Sparus aurata) with a small production of Meagre (Argyrosomus regius) and amberjack (Seriola dumerili). Atlantic bluefin tuna is exported mainly to Japan, whereas European seabass and Gilthead seabream are exported to Europe, mainly Italy. Aquaculture of seabass, seabream and meagre takes place in floating cages, approximately one kilometer offshore. In the case of Bluefin tuna, an Aquaculture Zone 6 km off the southeastern coast is utilized by 5 farms to fatten up the captured tunas. Another Aquaculture Zone towards the north of Malta is being planned (FAO[1]).

The Aquaculture Directorate has been established from the Malta Aquaculture Research Centre in order to extend the remit of the Centre by assigning regulatory functions to it. The Directorate is responsible for the implementation of the Aquaculture Strategy for the Maltese Islands 2014 - 2025 which provides a holistic vision for the Aquaculture Sector in Malta.

The Strategy identifies four key objectives: namely improved regulation, improved operation, improved environmental monitoring and better innovation:

  1. Improved regulation: To streamline the regulatory environment under one Directorate, with a clear policy on site locations, minimal conflict with other users, and standard conditions for all operators. 
  2. Improved operation: To create efficient, productive farms operating according to the principles of best management practice, complying with their operating consents, causing no nuisance to other coastal users, and with a positive public image.
  3. Improved environmental monitoring: To create a system that recognizes the link between biomass and impacts, specifies limits to what constitutes adverse impact (Environmental Quality Standards - EQS), over what area such impacts are acceptable (Allowed Zone of Affects – AZA), and is proportionate, practical and cost effective.
  4. Better Innovation: To create better facilities, funding and human resources to allow high quality applied research for the benefit of all industry operators.

There is strong competition for space and resources due to the small size of Maltese waters. Environmental issues take priority and an environmental impact assessment is required before aquaculture development is initiated in line with the Aquaculture Strategy set from (2014-2025).


Guidance; Collaboration; Stakeholder engagement; Knowledge sharing; Platform; Forum; Plan-making

Main Outputs / Results

Timeline of the re-allocation process:

2005- Fisheries Department granted a permit to establish an aquaculture zone planned for southeast Malta, which would take these cages further out at sea. The aquaculture site was approved through a Planning permit, its location is also recognized in the SPED. However the farm operators who had acquired Planning permits for tuna farms on the condition that they would move to this site never accepted it and contested it in court.

2013- First complains about slime and pollution by the locals


  • National Aquaculture Strategy (2014-2025). Fisheries Parliamentary Secretary Roderick Galdes launched a strategy for the fish farming sector for the period 2014 to 2025.
  • Infringement of MFF Ltd operating in Marsaxlokk who had increased the number of cages from five to 18 without permits (tripling of cages)
  • PA issued an enforcement notice to MFF Ltd
  • MFF Ltd Company appealed the enforcement and the case is still ongoing by 2016. Meanwhile, MFF has added another 3 cages.


  • 13/07/2016 - St Paul's Bay surface sludge keeps swimmers ashore. A foamy surface sludge has coated the sea in parts of St Paul's Bay, sending swimmers scrambling ashore.
  • 20/07/2016 - Source of foam-like material in St Paul's Bay not known yet. The authorities do not know the source of foam-like material which has appeared on the coast in St Paul's Bay on several days.
  • 23/07/2016 – Slime hits Delimara´s southern bays again (Kalanka and St Peter´s Pool Bays)
  • 31/07/2016 - Fish farm expands to four times its permitted size. Malta Fish Farming Ltd, a subsidiary of construction company Elbros Ltd, is allowed five cages but is operating 18.
  • 07/08/2016 – Salvu Ellul, owner of MFF Ltd, says that fish farms are the source of slime. They have invested in technology (feeding cage that is surrounded by canvas to contain the waste + collecting the fat using a skimmer), but this was not enough. MFF is using 21 cages when it has a permit for five. They are prepared to move and are looking at alternative technology that would help monitoring with underwater cameras that could replace divers.
  • Fish and Fish Ltd Company is in line with its permits in terms of cage number, but is in breach because of the size of the cages and the fish species they contain. They are not prepared to move (increased costs due to monitoring nets and feed at further depths).
  • 08/08/2016 - Investigation into fish farm pollution launched. An investigation into fish farm pollution has been opened, the Environment Ministry and Fisheries parliamentary secretariat jointly announced this evening. The investigation, which will be undertaken by the Aquaculture Department and Environment Resources Authority, follows reports of sea sludge at Marsascala as well as an admission by a fish farm owner that the industry was polluting local seas.
  • 01/09/2016 - Tuna farms to face emergency enforcement, stiffer fines, amid rampant abuse. The operators of four tuna fish farms were served with an emergency enforcement order this morning, hours after it emerged that more than half of the fish farm cages are illegal. The enforcement orders require, that with immediate effect, the operators will comply with all the conditions stipulated in their respective planning permits. This includes both the number of structures and the operations of the fish farms. By Monday (05/09/2016), the operators each need to present a method statement on how they will be addressing the illegalities and how they will be removing them within a specified reasonable period.
  • 03/09/2016 - Fish farm operators commit themselves to resolve problems before next season. Operators in the aquaculture industry this morning committed themselves to resolve the sludge problems which plagued several beaches this summer and relocate further offshore before next season.
  • 06/09/2016 – PA puts off decision to revoke fish permits. Meeting were The Planning Board was discussing the revocation of permits on the basis that permit conditions had been breached, with several farms having more cages than permitted, or occupying different locations. The permits had included a condition which prohibited 'work practices resulting in undesirable environmental impact." The Enforcement Directorate is arguing that the slime was a breach of this condition. In its decision at the end of the meeting, the board said it would give the operators up to September 22 to come up with method statements to address the breaches of the conditions and relocation of the cages (mitigation plans). The PA may impose a bank guarantee to ensure compliance. Revocation of permits remained a possibility. Revocations were considered for:
    • Several marine cages in Marsaxlokk;
    • The setting up of a tuna penning site and an extension of a tuna penning site and operations in Ħofra iz-Zgħira in Marsaxlokk
    • To move the entire operation of a fish farm further offshore by some 700m at Xrobb l-Għaġin, Marsaxlokk
    • Tuna penning in cages and operations on land at Sikka l-Bajda off St Paul’s Bay
    • Extension of tuna farm at Sikka l-Bajda ;
    • Substitution of breeding of sea bream with tuna on a site in the Comino Channel.
  • 22/09/2016 – Fish farm permits revoked by PA for 4 fish farm operators (Fish & Fish Ltd, Malta Fish Farming Ltd, AJD Tuna Ltd and Malta Mariculture Ltd). 10 permits revoked by PA, although they have been given until 31 December 2016 to relocate to an aquaculture zone further offshore (6km off the southern coast of Malta).
  • 27/09/2016 – Fish farms commit to follow PA agreement. Not appealing.
  • 07/10/2016 – Two of the four operators still not adhering to the time frames and plans they have set themselves at their methods statements.
  • 25/10/2016 – Two fish farms (AJD Tuna and Malta Mariculture Ltd) appeal PA decision to revoke cage permits. 3 cages of AJD Tuna and 1 cage of Malta Mariculture Ltd need to be moved further offshore by the end of the year. The 3 cages of AJD Tuna were removed on October 16. The cage of Malta Mariculture Ltd (off Comino) was removed on September 22. First appeals sitting must be held within two months of the appeal being submitted (by the 25th of December 2016)


  • 31/05/2017 – Fish farms moved offshore – Tuna fish farms have abided by their obligations. All the tuna fish cages have been removed or relocated. The only equipment that remains are the markers and some rings. These are being dismantled and will be removed and relocated in the coming days.
    • All fish farms from Malta Fish Farming and Fish & Fish have been moved from Delimara and Marsaxlokk to the established South-East Aquaculture Zone 6 km offshore.
    • AJD Tuna agreed to relocate from St Paul´s Bay and Comino to a new aquaculture zone to be set up in the north. As today no such zone exists. Cages are being held in tow until then. The company has applied for a temporary permit to operate in the proposed aquaculture zone in the north until the zone itself is approved. PA has not indicated if this is possible.
    • If no northern aquaculture zone is formalized by July 2017, the cages will have to be moved to the existing zone in the south which at the moment is already at full capacity with two operators (Malta Fish Farming and Fish & Fish).
  • 06/2017 – PA gives temporary permission to AJD Tuna to relocate from Comino to the proposed location of the North-East Aquaculture Zone.
  • 29/08/2017 – St Paul´s Bay fish farm to move 5km from shore – Malta Mariculture Ltd to reduce the number of cages to six while retaining the same volume and to relocate these at a new site offshore from Sikka I-Bajda. This is a temporary measure for two years while operators await the setting of the designated North-East Aquaculture Zone. The six cages will comprise four cages with a diameter of 50 metres and a net depth of 35 metres, and two larger cages with a diameter of 60 metres and a depth of 38 metres. Together they will cover an area just under two hectares, five kilometres from the nearest landfall.


  • 01/08/2018 – Sea slime re-appears along the coast in Marsascala and Sliema. Fish farm operators have announced a series of self-regulatory measures to run from August until the end of October.
  • 06/08/2018 – Booms of fish pens to reduce sea slime. Booms on pens have been introduced to collect the oily residue from fish feed as slime has returned to plague Maltese beaches. 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.
  • 28/08/2018 – Aquaculture operators launch an environmental protection campaign. The Federation of Malta Aquaculture Producers has launched an educational campaign on the media stressing that its members too have a responsibility, along with others, to protecting the sea.
  • 06/09/2018 – Slime free beaches not guaranteed, fish farm representative says. New mitigation measures cannot guarantee that slime would not crop up on shores.
  • 23/09/2018 – Malta´s tuna farms fined for breaching permit conditions. The environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has been imposing daily fines on the farms. For two months running, members of the ERA’s enforcement directorate have been conducting inspections on the fish farms on alternate days, covering north and then the south. On some days all farms were examined in a blitz of inspections. Some of the farms have since come into line with environmental legislation while others are cooperating with the ERA to move towards compliance. Fines of up to €70 daily are lifted as soon as compliance is achieved.


This Practice could serve as an example of a story that might happen at other MS Countries with regard to Aquaculture and Tourism conflicts. The steps and timeline of the story might however change when dealing with this at other sites.

Contact Person

Michelle Borg

Email: (Michelle[dot]Borg[at]pa[dot]org[dot]mt)

Responsible Entity 

Planning Authority (PA) of Malta


Costs / Funding Source

Not applicable


[1]FAO 2005-2018. National Aquaculture Sector Overview. Malta. National Aquaculture Sector Overview Fact Sheets. Text by Camilleri, T.C. In: FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department [online]. Rome. Updated 27 March 2017. Available at:…