Court orders two tuna farmers to set fish free
Friday, February 21, 2020, 08:10 (GMT + 9)
Tuna ranchers AJD Tuna Ltd and Fish and Fish have lost separate cases against the government to stop it from setting free a number of bluefin tuna, after exceeding their quotas in 2019.
The operators had caught the valuable fish with purse-seiners and intended introducing them to their farms, but were stopped by the authorities for exceeding the quota of just under 2,300 tonnes.
Photo: AJD Tuna
But the court noted that the tuna currently in cages have been in an “illegal status” since September 2019, and that this fish could not be harvested – killed for sale and export – as this could only be done to tuna in fish farms and not in purse-seiner nets.
The companies filed warrants of prohibitory injunction against the Director General of Fishing and Aquaculture asking the court to stop them “taking or ordering the taking of steps which lead to the setting free into the sea of the Bluefin Tuna,” until judicial proceedings under the Fishing Conservation and Administration Act could be taken.
Acting fisheries director Bjorn Callus told the court that if the fish are not released out of good will, he would be constrained to proceed with criminal action against the companies, saying he lacked the competence to have the fish released without the court’s permission.
The Judge Robert Mangion noted that this request gave the impression that the court was being asked to stop the DG from following judicial procedures as required by law.
It was only during the oral argumentation stage, at the invitation of the court, that the plaintiffs said their request was intended at stopping the tuna being set free until other judicial proceedings are taken.
The court noted that the authorities seemed to have been holding back from taking judicial action against the companies, because of the provisional upholding of the injunction.
The judge observed that a plaintiff is unable to pursue legal remedy if it arises in connection with his own illegal act, and that such a legal maxim applied in this case.
Photo: Fish and Fish Ltd.
It emerges from the proceedings that the competent authority was not planning to enforce the order to release the fish before court steps were taken.
But the court said that even if the authorities had released the fish, the plaintiff’s expectations of damages were not “an irremediable damage” that can only be safeguarded by the warrant of prohibitory injunction.
The judge upheld the defence’s arguments and declined to issue the warrant of prohibitory injunction.
Author: Matthew Agius / Malta Today