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Malta Increases Tuna Farms By 1500 M/T Against NGOs Warnings

With Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund warning of the possible extinction of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna, Malta has just registered a new 1,500-tonne tuna ranch at the Aquaculture Zone off Marsaskala.

Once operational, this new fish farm will increase the country’s total bluefin tuna farming capacity to 12,300 tonnes, making Malta the undisputed tuna ranching capital of the world.

But the decision to increase tuna farming facilities comes at a time when international conservation agencies are battling to save the critically endangered marine predator from total stocks collapse – an irreversible situation, whereby the quantity of mature adults will be too low to replenish dwindling population figures.

WWF insists that unless serious action is taken to control and limit bluefin tuna fishing in the Mediterranean, the stocks will collapse by 2012.

Apart from setting the bluefin tuna on a direct collision course with extinction, the collapse of fish stocks would also spell an emphatic end to the entire Mediterranean tuna industry, affecting the livelihoods of tens of thousands of citizens across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

For this reason, European Commissioner Joe Borg recently announced a reduction each member state’s Total Allowable Catch for the critically endangered species. But while Malta has publicly endorsed this initiative, and has even signed the Tokyo Declaration of 2007 – which commits signatory states specifically not to increase their tuna ranching capacity – the Rural Affairs Ministry has nonetheless embarked on a completely contradictory course of action, upping the national farming capacity by a further 1,500 tonnes.

However, it remains unclear how the government intends to fill this enormous capacity, at a time when national quotas – and hence the ability to legally catch bluefin tuna form the wild – are being slashed in a last-ditch effort to protect the depleted fish stocks.

Nor is the issue of over-capacity the only question mark raised in conecton with this new tuna ranching operation. ICCAT, the international bluefin tuna regulator, has listed the new farm as the property of the Veterinary Regulation Fisheries Conservation and Control Division. This in turn is a government department falling under the aegis of the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs.

The same department also doubles up as a regulator for the local fisheries sector, which suggests that the government of Malta, now officially listed as a ranch-owner in its own right, has assumed the conflicting role of competitor in a sector in which it also acts as regulator.

MaltaToday this week asked Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg for his reaction to this state of affairs, which appears to directly contradict the Commission’s own policy regarding conservation and fisheries management.

No answers were forthcoming by the time we went to print, but a spokesperson for the MRRA stressed that the only reason the Division was listed as a tuna ranch owner was that the new farm was as yet inoperative.
“This farm is not operational and this is why it is listed under the Veterinary Regulation Fisheries Conservation and Control Division,” the ministry official said.

The Ministry also claims that it will soon be downsizing its tuna ranching industry, despite its recent decision to do the very opposite.

“Malta will abide by Council Regulation 302/2009, and is drafting a Management Plan on the freezing and eventual decrease of bluefin tuna farming capacity, to be presented to the Commission by15 September, 2009.”

The spokesman however declined to comment when asked whether Rural Affairs Minister George Pullicino would assume personal responsibility if the Mediterranean bluefin tuna stocks collapse as predicted over the next three years.