The fish farm industry, a million-lira industry that has been vehemently criticised for its impact on marine ecology and tourism, has generated just Lm289,979 in tax in the last seven years.
Benefiting from incentives under the Business Promotion Act, the aquaculture industry generates millions every year, according to Eurostat indicators.
Data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation shows the total value of seabream (awrat) and seabass (spnotta) production in Malta at USD34.3 million (Lm12.4 million), between 1998 and 2003.
They are the two main species farmed in Malta’s aquaculture industry, 95 per cent of which is aimed for the foreign market.
The tax benefits presented in parliament are so far inconclusive as to whether these pertain solely to the aquaculture industry, or whether this may include tuna penning farms.
“As such the statistics are unclear,” Ivan Portanier, a spokesperson for Ta’ Mattew Fisheries, an aquaculture farm, argued. “The majority of shareholders in the tuna industry are Japanese and Korean, which probably means they do not pay tax in Malta. If it does concern the aquaculture, one must say that turnover has been decreasing for the past six to seven years. However, today the industry has found new ways of containing any harmful effects from its operations.”
Repeatedly accused of leaving harmful effects on marine ecology, critics say fish farms endanger the long-term livelihood of fishermen and fragile ecosystems. Environmental groups believe fish farms should be phased out and closed, and follow in the footsteps of countries like Croatia, which closed all fish farms in order to have clean seas and attract tourists.
Harry Vassallo, chairperson of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green Party, said government should carry out a cost-benefit analysis of its policy.
“With the figures quoted and assuming the companies in question owe tax at around 5 per cent of profits, government should analyse the impact of this industry on tourism, the quality of life of residents in affected areas, damage to historical buildings and to the environment, balanced against a global tax revenue of Lm40,000 per annum and practically no employment contribution.
“At this point the country is wondering why we tolerate such a presence and the politicians that permit and encourage it should give a clear answer,” Vassallo said.
Former Nationalist MP, Josie Muscat, who is running on a list of independent candidates for the council at Marsaskala, a prominent site for fish farms, said the tax generated by the industry was a pittance compared to the effects it has on the environment and tourism.
“This town needs hotels and establishments which will enhance tourism. Another five fish farms are earmarked for siting at Marsaskala in March, bringing the total of farms up to nine. Sicily only has two farms. In Malta, it seems, everything goes.”