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 seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) and Gilt-head seabream (Sparus aurata) with a small production of Meagre (Argyrosomus regius). Atlantic bluefin tuna is exported mainly to Japan, whereas European seabass and Gilt-head seabream are exported to Europe, mainly Italy. Aquaculture of sea bass, sea bream and meagre takes place in floating cages, approximately one kilometre offshore. In the case of Bluefin tuna, three farms are situated approximately 2 km offshore and another two operators utilise an Aquaculture Zone 6km off the south eastern coast. Another Aquaculture Zone towards the north of Malta is being planned. In 2010, European seabass and Gilt-head seabream production, was 1 857 tonnes whilst the Atlantic bluefin tuna production was 5 035 tonnes (NSO, 2011).
The national body for aquaculture research is the Malta Aquaculture Research Centre (MAR). Within MAR, the pilot marine hatchery began operating again in November 2005 focusing on research into aquaculture species diversification. This was done in collaboration with a private company; Malta Fishfarming Ltd. (MFF) through the Amberjack Project, a joint venture agreement for the study of spawning and juvenile rearing methods for Seriola dumerili. This collaboration was extended for another five years from 2011 to 2016. Apart from this research, MAR also participated in the SELFDOTT Project, an EU funded project under the 7th Framework Programme for the domestication of Bluefin tuna.
There is strong competition for space and resources due to the small size of Malta. Environmental issues take priority and an environmental impact assessment is required before aquaculture development is initiated. A long term Aquaculture Strategy for Malta has been drafted for the assessment of the current and future situation of aquaculture in Malta.
Aquaculture was introduced into Malta following the establishment of the National Aquaculture Centre (NAC) in 1988 when basic rearing techniques were demonstrated for hatching and rearing of tilapia (Oreochromis spilurus and Oreochromis mossambicus x Oreochromis niloticus) in seawater (SIPAM, 2002). In the early 1990s, commercial fish farms started producing European seabass (D. labrax) and gilthead seabream (S. aurata). Various types of ongrowing cages are used, namely Dunlop and Farmocean cages for offshore sites and Floatex and Kames cages for inshore nursery sites. At the turn of the century, Maltese companies showed interest in farming the Atlantic bluefin tuna (T. thynnus thynnus), in large circular floating offshore cages (SIPAM, 2002).
The NAC developed its own pilot marine hatchery for the production of gilthead seabream and European seabass fingerlings in 1992. The initial target was for an annual production of 400 000 juveniles (2 g in weight) and this was achieved in 1994 (NAC, 1998). During the following period, from 1995 to 1998, production increased to 1 500 000 fingerlings as the NAC improved its hatchery technology.
In 2001 the National Aquaculture Centre was re-named the Malta Centre for Fisheries Sciences (MCFS) and offered expertise to the regulatory bodies and technical support to the local industry. Today the centre focuses mainly on aquaculture research and is known as the Malta Aquaculture Research Centre (MAR). MAR is the only research facility on Malta for hatching marine species for mariculture. Many improvements have been made in the marine hatchery to accommodate trials for amberjack and Atlantic bluefin tuna larvae. The main stream of research focuses on the diversification of species to be produced for mariculture, with success obtained on a national level with the Amberjack Project and on an EU level with the SELFDOTT project for both the amberjack and Atlantic bluefin tuna.
The primary activities of MARC are:
The aquaculture sector generates a total of 964 full-time equivalent jobs (FTE), including 197 FTE employed in the aquaculture sector itself and an additional 767 FTE jobs generated by way of indirect and induced economic impacts. These jobs were mainly concentrated in the wholesale and retail trade, transport and communication, financial intermediation and manufacturing sectors (Applied Economics Consulting Ltd., 2009).
All farming systems used around Malta are made of floating cages. There are six operational farms, of which two farms have inshore nursery sites for juvenile seabream, seabass, meagre and amberjacks. The tuna farms are offshore, approximately 1–2 km off the coast towards the north or on the southeast side of the main island in approximately 50 m deep sea. Two tuna farms are situated 6 km off the southeast coast in waters around 90 m deep. There is a pilot hatchery on land within the MAR. This pilot hatchery produces seabream, seabass, meagre and amberjack juveniles through research trials. Egg collection and larval rearing attempts are also done for Bluefin tuna.
The species cultured on a purely aquaculture basis in Malta are the European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax), the gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata) and the meagre (Argyrosomus regius). The fattening of Atlantic bluefin tuna (T. thynnus thynnus) is a capture-based aquaculture whereby tuna of various sizes, usually ranging from 80-620 kg are caught by purse seine fishing nets and fattened for about six months until export. All European seabass and gilthead seabream fingerlings are generally imported from approved hatcheries in Italy, France or Spain.
In the case of Atlantic bluefin tuna, large cages with a diameter of 50 m and depth of 30 metres are usually used. A few 90 m diameter cages have also been used since 2003. The 50 m diameter cages are Spanish, Italian or English offshore cages which are moored in waters 50-60 m deep approximately 1 to 2 kilometres from the coastline.
The tuna farming technology used in Malta is similar to that of other Mediterranean countries, namely Spain, Croatia, Turkey and Italy. Generally, fish are caught in international waters by purse seines during the months of June and July. They are then transferred to the cages where they are fed on raw fish and squid, depending on farm management and requirements. The fish are kept in the cages until they are harvested and exported between October and January as fresh or frozen products to Asian markets (mainly Japan). The size of the exported fish depends on the size of fish caught from the wild and generally ranges between 80 and 620 kg. As all farmed tuna are caught from the wild, the sustainability of fish stocks and coastal ecosystems is a matter of concern for various bodies. Assessments carried out by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) indicate a strong decline in the spawning stock biomass since 1993 (FAO/GFCM/ICCAT, 2005). Strict control measures have been implemented recently and quotas have been established for each country. This creates the need for more research whereby Atlantic bluefin tuna juveniles will be produced for aquaculture and the pressure on the wild stocks will be relieved.
Aquaculture in Malta started on a commercial basis in 1991 with the production of 60 tonnes of European seabass and gilthead seabream. Production gradually increased over the years to a peak of 2 300 tonnes in 1999 (SIPAM, 1999), after which production decreased to 1 857 tonnes in 2010 as shown in table 1. This decrease in European seabass and gilthead seabream production was coupled with an increase in Atlantic bluefin tuna production through capture-based aquaculture. This latter farming activity started in 2000 with Malta producing around 300 tonnes. In 2010, Malta produced 4 955 tonnes of Atlantic bluefin tuna (NSO, 2011).
Tab.1. Production (volume and value) of main cultured species (source: NSO, 2011)
For comparison with the nationally produced statistics outlined in Table 1, the following graph showing total aquaculture production reported to FAO, does not include capture-based aquaculture.
Local fish consumption varies throughout the year. Total annual consumption of European seabass and gilthead seabream is around 90-100 tonnes. Consumption trends depend on the availability of fresh substitutes which are imported at cheap prices, or locally caught fish at favourable low prices, for example dolphin fish Coryphaena hippurus, tuna or swordfish Xiphias gladius. Gilthead seabream is usually sold locally at around EUR 4.00-5.00 per kilo. European seabass prices are slightly higher but it is purchased in smaller quantities. The consumer acknowledges that farmed fish is very fresh due to the fact that it is locally grown and slaughtered and there is a constant supply throughout the year. Farmed fish provides the consumer with a very good quality product at a reasonable price.
With regard to exports, European seabass and gilthead seabream are exported whole mainly to central and north Italy, the main buyers being large supermarkets or hypermarket chains, as well as large wholesalers. The price mark-up on the CIF Italy (Cost, Insurance & Freight) price varies according to the clients, but usually varies from 8 to 12 percent. The client will, in turn, mark up the price by an additional 15-20 percent. All European seabass and gilthead seabream production plants have an EU export code to accompany goods. Existing legislation includes Commission Decision 94/356/EC of 20/05/1994, giving detailed rules on the application of the Council Directive 91/493/EEC, as regards to health checks on fishery products. There is also local subsidiary legislation SL231.43 (LN 255 of 2000) on fish packing and processing.
In the case of Atlantic bluefin tuna, the slaughtered fish are exported fresh or frozen to Asian markets, mainly Japan. The fresh product is exported on ice and transported by air, while the frozen product is slaughtered and cut up before being frozen at -80 °C and subsequently transported by sea.
Fish farming has a positive effect on the employment of unskilled and skilled labour, earns the country hard currency from exports and there is a high local value added resulting from a net cash inflow. A report commissioned by the Federation of Maltese Aquaculture Producers states that aquaculture production in Malta is a significant sector with a turnover of about EUR 128 million (Applied Economics Consulting Ltd., 2009).
The Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs (MRRA) regulates and administers the aquaculture industries and is directly responsible for issuing aquaculture permits. MAR is responsible for research, mainly focusing on species diversification. It also provides technical advice and assistance to local companies and carries out research and development in aquaculture.
Aquaculture development is regulated by Part IX of Chapter 425, Fisheries Conservation and Management Act of 2001 and by subsidiary legislation (Aquaculture Operations Regulations) 2004 and Aquaculture Regulations 36.34 (LN73 of 1990) issued under the Prevention of Disease Ordinance Chapter 36 and covered by Chapter 437 Veterinary Services Act and Animal Welfare Act Chapter 439. The issue of operating permits is the direct responsibility of the Agriculture and Fisheries Regulation Division. Research and Development falls under the Rural Development and Aquaculture Division.
Development in aquaculture both on land and offshore necessitates a development permit as established by the Development Planning Act Chapter 356 and its subsidiary legislation. Aquaculture is also subject to environmental regulations published under the Environment Protection Act 2001.
The local legislation directly affecting the aquaculture industry is the responsibility of the following Departments and Authorities:
MAR within the Rural Development and Aquaculture Directorate (RDAD), is the only Government aquaculture research centre in Malta. Applied research focuses on species diversification targeting the greater amberjack (Seriola dumerilii) and Atlantic bluefin tuna (T. thynnus thynnus).
The Amberjack Project is a five-year joint venture between MAR and Malta Fishfarming Ltd. It started in 2006, one year after the first amberjack eggs were obtained from broodstock reared in cages. Various advances have been made during the past three years and spawning and egg collection have become an annual certainty. Larval survival still needs some improvements and a maximum of 14 000 fingerlings were produced in 2010. The management and staff have the ambitious aim to produce a better survival and larger numbers before the five-year term comes to the end. The Joint Venture will be extended for a further five years from 2011 to 2016.
Atlantic bluefin tuna:
Malta is a partner in the 7th Framework EU project known as SELF-DOTT (SELF sustaining aquaculture – Domestication of Thunnus thynnus). This project involves 13 partners from a total of eight countries: France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Malta, Norway and Spain. Over the three years of this project that started in 2008, the different institutes and companies from these countries will contribute towards a better understanding of the biology of Atlantic bluefin tuna within realistic and achievable objectives. The whole project is organized into three main work packages, namely reproduction, larval rearing and nutrition. The scientific consortium has already reached one of its main objectives; successfully producing fertilized eggs and viable larvae. The larval rearing groups aim to produce a number of fingerlings for further rearing. During 2009, the second year of this project, over 200 million good fertilized eggs have been collected from the broodstock of Spain and Italy, showing that the techniques for broodstock management and egg collection have been successful. This was further proven in 2010 when eggs were collected from three sites; including Malta. This is a very big step forward after the success in the previous 5th Framework project (REPRO-DOTT - Reproduction of Atlantic bluefin tuna), where viable eggs were obtained and artificially inseminated, thus proving that Atlantic bluefin tuna can mature and produce viable eggs and sperm in captivity. Malta was responsible for holding broodstock for egg collection, egg transportation trials, a broodstock nutrition experiment and sampling Atlantic bluefin tuna from the wild. It is also involved in egg transportation to other countries and larval rearing.
For 2012, the MAR plans to continue research along with MFF, in collaboration with the University of Dusseldorf and Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research institution (IOLR).
Recently meagre eggs were imported from Italy for hatching and juvenile production. Juveniles produced will be reared to adults and utilised as broodstock so we can produce a closed cycle of meagre in the coming years.
Some groupers are being reared within the broodstock facilities inside Fort San Lucjan. These will be grown to broodstock for spawning trials.
Seabream and seabass:
Various experiments are carried out with seabass and seabream. The main aim of producing seabass and seabream is to carry out trials on enrichment products and feeds, while training and improving staff. The hatchery at MAR is capable of producing viable eggs of these species.
White Seabream (Diplodus sargus):
In 2011 some fertilised eggs were obtained and trials were carried out in juveniles produced.
MAR carries out vaccine safety tests for a UK based company.
Turtle Rehabilitation Unit:
A number of injured turtles are brought to MAR by fishermen. These turtles are housed MAR within the Turtle Rehabilitation Unit, where they are cured. After receiving the necessary treatment, and having undergone rehabilitation, the centre in conjunction with the local NGO Nature Trust and the Nature Protection Unit of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, release the turtles back to their natural environment from a sandy beach. Prior to their release, these turtles are tagged so that useful information on their growth and migration patterns could be obtained in the event of recapture. The University of Malta offers a undergraduate degree course in science subjects, with some credits based on aquaculture, but there are no degrees specifically on aquaculture.
The University of Malta offers an undergraduate degree course in science subjects, with some credits based on aquaculture, but there are no degrees specifically on aquaculture.
During the last decade, there has been a definite shift of cultured species from European seabass and gilthead seabream to Atlantic bluefin tuna. The Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs encourages research into species diversification through MAR and hopes to develop breeding and rearing techniques of the greater amberjack and Atlantic bluefin tuna among other “new” species for aquaculture.
Various issues have arisen due to the conflict between tourism and aquaculture operations due to the severe lack of space around the Maltese islands. The Aquaculture Strategy identified the way forward for this sector for a sustainable aquaculture industry.
Due to the conflicts, aquaculture developments require appropriate environmental assessment. The preliminary studies required are those associated with the Environmental Impact Assessment, including benthic surveys, and the collection of data regarding environmental parameters such as water quality and sediment analysis. The impact assessment process also evaluates the quality and magnitude of the expected environmental impact. The impact assessment outlines the environmental monitoring required. This includes monitoring of water quality and sediments, benthic flora and fauna and visual inspection of the seabed under the cages (using video). Monitoring takes place at both cage and control sites.
Other forms of monitoring, video monitoring or monitoring of the sea-grass Posidonia oceanica parameters, are carried out in areas which are identified as being particularly sensitive. The objective of the monitoring programme is to minimize adverse ecological changes and related economic consequences resulting from water use, land use, discharge of effluents, use of drugs and chemicals and other related activities. The inputs of chemicals hazardous to human health and the environment are regulated and need to be registered and monitored during each operation. Safe, effective and minimal use of therapeutics, hormones, drugs, antibiotics and other disease control chemicals should be ensured. These programmes have to be approved by the Environment, Fisheries and Veterinary Authorities, according to the remits of the relative agencies. Aquaculture developments must comply with all local, regional and global management systems aimed at the conservation of species.
Applied Economics Consulting Ltd. 2009. The Economic Impact of Aquaculture Activity on the Maltese Economy. 32 pp.
FAO/GFCM/ICCAT. 2005 . Report of the third meeting of the ad hoc GFCM/ICCAT Working Group on Sustainable Tuna Farming/Fattening Practices in the Mediterranean. Malta National Report Survey form on current bluefin tuna farming practices in the Mediterranean. 10pp.
MAR. 2010. Malta Aquaculture Research Centre. Leaflet
MCFS. 2006 . Malta Centre for Fisheries Sciences. Data estimates compiled directly from farms. Fisheries Conservation and Control Division, Malta. 2006
MRAE. 2004 . Ministry for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Fisheries Conservation and Control Division, Annual Report. Malta 2004. 12pp.
MRAE. 2005 . Ministry for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Fisheries Conservation and Control Division, Annual Report. Malta 2005. 20pp.
NAC. 1998 . National Aquaculture Centre, Malta. Brochure. 15pp.
NSO MALTA. 13 November 2009. News release 204/2009. Aquaculture: 2008
NSO MALTA. 17 November 2011. News release 221/2011. Aquaculture: 2010
SIPAM. 1999 . SIPAM Annual Report, Malta.
SIPAM. 2002 . SIPAM Annual Report, Malta.