The Malta Aquaculture Research Centre (MARC), which falls under the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs (MRRA), is undertaking the development of an Aquaculture Strategy for the Maltese Islands. The aim of this strategy is to lay down a path to ensure the sustainable development of aquaculture, and to identify the factors necessary for a profitable and economically sustainable industry. MRRA sum up the strategy’s objectives in four keys points: improved regulation; improved operation; improved environmental monitoring; and better innovation.
fish4tomorrow has been involved in consultations along the way and a draft strategy has been produced which attempts to set out Malta’s role in the international aquaculture context. Malta’s aquaculture industry does produce a number of CCS (closed cycle species) such as Sea Bass (Spnott) and Gilthead Bream (Awrat), however this is of a minor scale in comparison to its tuna ranching. In fact, fish4tomorrow is highly concerned that the industry is almost wholly reliant on wild tuna stocks. In recent years, the oceans’ Blue Fin Tuna stocks have been drastically depleted through overfishing, to such an extent that they are fast approaching a state beyond recovery, and Malta has become infamous internationally as a key player in the Blue Fin Tuna industry.
The strategy provides a detailed study of the current status of the industry; describing technical details such as aquaculture sites, cage systems, production processes for different species, and export details. It also describes the research currently being carried out, and the personnel employed in the field. It explains that currently, the industry is being regulated by a number of discrete policies, clearly indicating the need for a single comprehensive policy document.
One of fish4tomorrow’s requests was the improvement of enforcement and education. It stressed that illegalities, infringements and enforcements need to be publicised. Apart from enforcement, there is a need for the farm operators to show more accountability and corporate social responsibility.
The strategy describes the regulation necessary for the local industry, and clearly states that many monitoring and regulating tasks should be passed over from MEPA to the MRRA, as the former is “seen by the industry to be unsympathetic to aquaculture”. However fish4tomorrow have some reservations about this, since although it would be more convenient and would also promote investors, it would also result in reduced environmental monitoring and enforcement, and may leave out key stakeholders in the permit process. However fish4tomorrow does agree that a committee should be set up to liaise between the relevant MRRA and MEPA departments, to help facilitate the application process, keep the permit process balanced and encourage investment.
The strategy describes current environmental monitoring procedures as “unnecessarily complex and costly”, requiring immediate revisions. Also recommended are measures to control the health of fish, and contingency plans for the emergency control of a disease outbreak.
Potential aquaculture sites are identified in the strategy, and the potential production of these sites estimated. MRRA express their desire for the Tuna stocks to recover sufficiently in the coming years to allow an increase in the annual quotas, preferably to above their previous largest volume of 7000 tons. fish4tomorrow believe this is unlikely, as those quotas have already proven to be highly unsustainable. A number of different production scenarios are outlined, and the socio-economic impacts of each described. fish4tomorrow suggests more conservative production targets with regards the Blue Fin Tuna – projecting such high targets will be detrimental to the conservation of the Tuna, and the long-term sustainability of the industry.
Currently, the industry is highly dependent on exports to Japanese and Korean markets, which led fish4tomorrow to question the economic resilience of the industry. In fact, the strategy includes a market analysis for the different species of fish currently being produced and researched, and identifies a number of opportunities for market expansion. The MRRA will continue to encourage diversification of markets and products, however this is difficult since the revenue from current markets is so high. Key areas for research are described, together with a need for measures to improve the image of aquaculture.
Emma Warrington is Project Coordinator for fish4tomorrow, a campaign to promote sustainable seafood consumption by 5 environmental NGOs, Nature Trust, Din l-Art Helwa, Sharklab, Greenhouse and Get up stand up.
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