Malta in research project aimed at more sustainable fishing practices

A trawl fisherman sorting his catch. PHOTO: Leyla Knittweis-Mifsud, DFA-MSDEC

A trawl fisherman sorting his catch. PHOTO: Leyla Knittweis-Mifsud, DFA-MSDEC

The Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Department of Biology at the University of Malta are taking part in an international research project called ‘Marine Protected Areas Network Towards Sustainable Fisheries in the Central Mediterranean’ (Mantis). The project aims to protect habitats that are critical for commercial species and identify measures to minimise adverse fishing impacts in areas where juveniles of commercial species aggregate.

Most of Mediterranean fisheries target overfished stocks. Besides the biological impacts of the activity, this unsustainable practice also means that fishermen cannot maximise their income. To increase the productivity of the fished species, a key requirement is to shift the size of the first capture to larger sizes.

Increasing mesh sizes of nets used by fishermen to avoid catching juveniles of certain species, such as Hake (Merluzz) and Red Mullet (Trilja) in the case of trawl nets, is not always possible as this would also result in lower catches of valuable small-sized commercial species, such as the Giant Red Shrimp (Gamblu Aħmar), the deepwater Rose Shrimp (Gamblu Abjad) and Norway lobster (Langostini).

An alternative management strategy is to reduce catches of juveniles by protecting the nursery habitats where they aggregate by establishing and implementing marine protected areas. Restricting fishing activities in these areas ensures that habitats that are essential for species to complete their life cycles are protected. It helps to lower the amount of small individuals in catches and contributes to more fish and shrimp surviving to reproduce. Ultimately, this will lead to higher catches and more sustainable fishing.

The project is funded by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, and coordinated by the Italian National Research Council.

Apart from the two Maltese partners, the project consortium includes the Italian National University Consortium for Marine Sciences, the Italian National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics, the Croatian Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries, the cooperative for Fisheries and Aquaculture Economic Research, the World Wildlife Fund and Oceana.

Representatives of the project partners recently met in Rome to hold discussions and to plan forthcoming activities.

In the coming months, the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, represented by Roberta Mifsud and Marie Louise Pace, and the Department of Bio­logy, represented by Dr Leyla Knittweis-Mifsud and Prof. Joseph Borg will focus on reviewing and integrating all available knowledge on the space-time dynamics of Maltese fisheries resources.

The local teams will gather all available data on the locations of catches, and especially on the sizes of individuals of the fish species caught from the different fishing grounds.

This information is available from onboard observations carried out routinely by the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, from past scientific research projects, and ongoing scientific surveys. Once analysed, the information will enable investigation of how a network of marine protected areas can contribute to improve sustainable fisheries in the central Mediterranean, and ultimately aid local fishermen to maximise their incomes.

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