The Maltese Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ)
In 1971, Malta declared an Exclusive Fishing Zone (EFZ) that extended to 25 nautical miles (n miles) from the baselines of the Maltese Islands (Act XXXII of 1971), in accordance with the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea. With the entry of Malta into the European Union in 2004, this zone was maintained as a Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ) around the Maltese Islands by EU Council Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) No 813/2004 of 26.04.2004). The Malta EFZ, the first of its kind in the Mediterranean, has an overall area of 6735 km2.
The key aim of the Malta FMZ is to protect the fisheries resources of Malta’s sea area and the ecosystems on which they depend. During the accession negotiations with the EU, Malta presented to the EU a number of studies which showed the negative effects that purse-seining and industrial long-lining (two very intensive fishing methods), as practised by EU fishers, would have in the Maltese EFZ area if this was opened up to these fishery types. The EU recognized the conflict that exists between these intensive fishing methods and the less intensive passive fishing operations practised to date by the Maltese fishing fleet. For this reason, the EU agreed that when Malta becomes a member state, sustainable fishing in the previous EFZ would be safeguarded through the setting up of a Fisheries Management Zone and the implementation of a variety of management actions. Thus, the Malta FMZ in effect functions as a ‘marine protected area’ albeit being a new type for the Mediterranean.
The measures adopted for the management of resources within the FMZ are designed to limit fishing effort and capacity by restricting size and engine power of fishing vessels. In particular, only vessels smaller than 12 m are allowed to fish within the zone since these are considered as boats which practise small scale coastal fishing and which are therefore least harmful to the ecological regime within the zone.
However, since the agreed measures do not discriminate between Maltese and EU fishers, Maltese fishers who own boats larger than 12 m will not be able to continue fishing in the 25-n mile zone as they had done in the past. Less than 50 boats are affected by this new regulation and the Maltese Government provided these fishers with financial aid to upgrade their equipment and enhance their fishing efficiency in order to start fishing outside the zone.
By way of exception to the above arrangement, four types of fishing activities are nevertheless allowed within the Malta 25-n mile FMZ by vessels that may be larger than 12 m. These are the following:
Trawling in designated areas within the FMZ is allowed, although the total trawling capacity within the 25-n mile zone will not be allowed to increase from its present level. The size limitation of trawlers has been set at 24 m. This means that only trawlers smaller than 24 m will be allowed to trawl in specified areas within the FMZ; this measure is designed to conserve existing ‘refugia’ and fragile benthic ecosystems. As a further restriction, in areas where the depth of the sea floor is less than 200 m, such as Hurd Bank, as well as being smaller than 24 m, trawlers must also have an engine capacity that does not exceed 185 kW. There can be no further registration of trawlers, either local or foreign, for fishing in the FMZ.
b) Fishing for Lampuki
The Maltese Authorities has, for many years, maintained a management regime specifically for the Dolphin Fish (Corphaena hippurus; in Maltese ‘Lampuki’) fishery, since fishing operations take place partly within 25 n miles of the coastline (usually starting at 7 n miles). The Maltese Government issues permits for Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) that are laid in the sea along straight-line courses. There are around 130 possible locations where these FAD lines may be placed around the Maltese Islands. In recent years, Maltese fishers have taken up around 110 of these courses. Any FAD lines that remain vacant will be available to any EU fishers who may wish to apply for a permit to fish for lampuki within the Malta FMZ. There is no size restriction on vessels fishing for lampuki. Consequently, a boat that is larger than 12 m can fish for lampuki in the FMZ during the lampuki season. However, only Maltese fishermen will be allowed to fish for lampuki within territorial waters (12 n miles from Maltese shores).
c) Lampara Fishing
There are no restrictions on lampara fishing. This is small-scale pelagic purse seining that consists of fishing with a net that closes up around schools of fish such as Bogue (Boops boops) and Mackerel (Trachurus spp.) that are attracted towards the boats with the aid of a bright light. This type of fishing is dying out locally and there are very few fishers who still practise it in Malta. Lampara fishing in other EU countries mainly targets anchovies and sardines.
d) Fishing for tuna, swordfish and other highly migratory fish
Migratory fish do not fall within the remit of the FMZ, since, being migratory, they are not a resource peculiar to the area.
Efficient monitoring and control of the activities of vessels within the Malta FMZ is supported by an electronic Vessel Monitoring System (VMS). Vessels over 24 meters in length along with those vessels over 12 meters in length that are authorised to carry out fishing operations within the FMZ are obliged to carry the required electronic tracking equipment on board at all time.
Fishing industry in Malta
The fishing industry in Malta is relatively small, but its social significance far outweighs its economic importance. It is in fact a traditional activity that operates on a small scale producing small volumes of a valuable product. The industry is mainly artisanal and fairly typical of the fisheries found in many Mediterranean countries.
The Maltese fishing fleet consists of about 1800 registered fishing craft of which 40% are based in the picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk, while 31% are based in the island of Gozo. Out of these 1800 vessels only 50 are considered as industrial vessels (i.e. over 15 m in length). These industrial vessels are mainly trawlers, longliners and netters. The rest of the fleet can be considered as multipurpose since these vessels undertake all types of fishing, albeit on a small scale. The boats forming the non-industrial fleet are owned by some full-time, but mostly part-time and recreational fishers. They differ substantially in shape, size, gear utilised and in the hours spent in fishing activities. Both professional and amateur fishermen fish in coastal and offshore waters.
In 2004, there were only 432 persons registered as professional full-time fishers, owning some 320 vessels some of which are quite small (e.g. <10 m). Full-time is the term used for fishers whose main income is derived solely from fishing. This number has to be seen in the context that most fishers own more than one craft. It must be pointed out that fishing in Malta is mainly seasonal and as a consequence, most full-time fishers own at least one small and one large vessel which enables them to practise offshore fishing during the milder seasons and coastal or inshore fishing during the winter months. The average number of fishers employed on each full-time vessel is three persons per unit during winter. However, when undertaking trips of more than two days duration, extra hands are sometimes recruited.
The Maltese fishing fleet is composed of two distinct types of vessels which may be categorised as ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’. The traditional boats are the ‘Luzzu’ and the ‘Kajjik’, which are distinct from modern fishing vessels in shape, size and range of fishing activities. The ‘luzzu’ is the foremost traditional fishing vessel. It is pointed at both ends and is painted in characteristic bright colours. (Before the introduction of modern registration, the colour of the prow indicated the home port of each boat). The average overall length is of 6.7 m and the hull material is wood. These vessels have been the mainstay of the Maltese fleet in times gone by and their average age is 37 years. The average Gross Registered Tonnage (GRT) is 2.3 t and the average power is 30 kW. The ‘kajjik’ differs from the luzzu in being generally smaller (average length 4.6 m) and being flat ended at the stern. Previously, these boats were made of wood, but in recent years fibreglass has been the material of choice, with the consequence that at present, with the average age being 19 years, there are marginally more fibreglass ‘kajjik’ boats than wooden ones. With an average GRT of 1 t, the average power is only 17 kW. The ‘kajjik’ is the most common type of vessel, there being two and a half times as many as there are ‘luzzu’ boats. Following the ‘luzzu’ and ‘kajjik’, the Multi-Purpose Vessel (MPV) is the most common type. MPVs have an average overall length of 8 m. These vessels are a relatively recent addition to the fleet, and the average age is 18 years. This is reflected in the hull material, with the majority being made of fibreglass, whilst the remainder are constructed of wooden planking, or, less commonly, marine plywood. The average GRT is 4.6 t and the average power is 78 kW. Whereas the modern fishing boats operate on the high seas for swordfish, tuna and large demersal species, the ‘luzzu’ and ‘kajjik’ are used for coastal artisanal fishing, which includes small long-lines, trammel netting and traps. There are only a limited number of trawlers, most of which are under 24 m in length and use a “Mazara” type of trawl net.
MPV Luzzu Kajjik
Modern and traditional Maltese fishing vessels
The larger part of fish landings originate from international waters. The main landing sites in Malta are Marsaxlokk Harbour and the Wholesale Fishmarket in Valletta, popularly know as Il-Pixkerija, whilst Mgarr Harbour is the main landing site in Gozo. According to fisheries regulations all fish caught by local fishermen have to be sold through the Wholesale Fish Market in Valletta. Catches are sold by public auction through a middleman to retailers and fish hawkers. All dealers in fish are registered with the Fisheries Department. Statistical data for fish landings are collected through the daily returns of sales submitted by middlemen at the Valletta Fishmarket. However, this only covers sales effected in Malta since there is no equivalent market in Gozo. It is assumed that at least 25% of all catches are not recorded for various reasons that are beyond the control of the Fisheries Department. Changes in the fishing regulation system, such as the obligation of minimum catches sold to the Wholesale Fishmarket and the future surveillance of fisheries activities by maritime patrols, should improve the accuracy of the landing data collected in the near future.
Fish bought wholesale are marketed by 250 registered fish vendors on carts or vans, each of whom has a particular zone where to dispose of his/her wares. At present, a number of modern fish shops are sprouting all over the islands. These are all finished up to the latest sanitary standards and guarantee that the public obtain fresh fish in the best possible state. Most of these fish shops are also importing frozen fish from Europe and other neighbouring countries.
Due to the ever-increasing demand for fish from locals and tourists alike, another important outlet for disposing of fish is the catering industry which specialises in the preparation of different fish dishes appealing to different international tastes.
Type of fisheries in the Maltese Islands
The most important fisheries in Maltese waters are for bluefin tuna, dolphin fish, swordfish, demersal species and small pelagics. These fisheries are operated on a seasonal basis, according to the particular targeted species' migratory behaviour or habits (Table 1).
||inshore/reefs (rocky shaols)
||trammel-nets and gill-nets
||bogue and horse-mackarel
||frigate mackarel, bronze bream, bonito and small tunas
||bogue,mackarel and horse-mackarel, tuna and swordfish
||tuna and swordfish
||dolphin fish, pilot fish and amberjack
Bluefin tuna (Thunnus tynnus) has been fished by Maltese fishermen for a very long time. Tuna is targeted by Multi-Purpose Vessels ranging from 10 meters upwards and involves around 150 full-time and part-time fishermen. The gear used is drifting surface long-lines baited with Atlantic Mackerel and /or Japanese Squid. The maximum number of hooks set in a longline is about 2,500 but this depends mostly on the size of the boat. Fishing is undertaken about 30–50 n miles to the West, South and Southeast of the Island in an area that covers approximately 5,000 km2. At the beginning of the season in May, the effort is undertaken mainly in the Southwest area of the region and consequently further to the East according to the normal movement of the Bluefin tuna. The season ends in July.
The Dolphin Fish or Dorado (Coryphaena hippurus), known as lampuka in Maltese, is one of the most important species for the economy of the Maltese fishing industry. In fact, up to a few years ago it was actually the most important fishery due to its appeal to the public and the abundance of catches which occur regularly each year. Owing to its traditional appeal all boat owners participate in this seasonal activity and for this reason the Department of Fisheries organizes and manages all activities. Dolphin Fish are captured using ‘fish aggregating devices’ (FADs). These FADs take the form of small rafts made of floating material, which are then anchored to the bottom. Their use was introduced after it was noticed by local fishers that Dolphin Fish along with other species such as Pilot Fish (Naucrates ductor) and the Amberjack (Seriola dumerili) tend to aggregate within the shadow cast by floats. To further augment the number of fish, palm fronds are attached underneath each float to extend the shaded area. Once the Dolphin Fish aggregate, they are caught by surrounding nets similar to a purse-seine. When the boat is near an FAD various trolls made out of feathers or artificial bait are set and when one fish is caught, a decoy Dolphin Fish is thrown into the sea to attract any others that may be present under the FAD. When the number of fish present makes it worthwhile the surrounding operation is then undertaken.
Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) is targeted throughout the year although in varying degrees and for different reasons. The peak period is from late June to August when boats revert from tuna to swordfish fishing prior to starting operations for Dolphin Fish from September onwards. Only about 10 MPVs are equipped solely with swordfish longlines, the rest adapting their gear according to different seasonal fisheries such as Swordfish, Tuna and Dolphin Fish. During the peak period, 50 to 60 boats may actually target Swordfish and this involves between 200 and 250 fishers. The only gear used for Swordfish is surface drifting long-lines and the number of baited hooks varies according to the boat's size and range. The larger boats which venture beyond 25 n miles and remain at sea for at least five days may set as many as 2,000 hooks at any time, weather permitting, whilst the smaller craft spend a maximum of three days at sea and set between 500 and 700 hooks per effort. The fishing technique is identical to that used for tuna. The bait is exclusively Atlantic Mackerel and the size of each mackerel varies according to the period when different sizes of Swordfish are anticipated, that is, during the period when juvenile Swordfish are present, the hooks are baited with smaller mackerel.
Demersal fishing is undertaken with different types of gears: gillnets and entangling nets, bottom trawlers, bottom longlines and traps. Different types of bottom gillnets and entangling nets are used in the Maltese Islands. These are (a) trammel nets locally known as ‘parit’ (b) the xkitt which is a compound net; and (c) xkatlar, a single mesh bottom net. They are mainly used during the winter months when the weather does not allow long term fishing on the high seas. This gear is used both day and night depending on the particular species being targeted, for example, demersal species in late evening and night, and pelagic species during the day. The product is sold fresh and is for local consumption. The use of nets has been practised since time immemorial and their importance only started diminishing with the introduction of long-lining, which permits fishing away from the shore in deeper waters. The main fishing area for demersal species is to the north of the island, in depths of 10–40 m. These activities are undertaken by approximately 150–200 vessels in the smaller category, such as ‘luzzu’, ‘kajjik’ and MPVs which are less than 12 m in length. These boats are usually crewed by one or two fishers.
Bottom longlining targets several species such as Breams (Pagellus spp.), Dentex (Dentex dentex), Wreckfish (Polyprion americanus), Stone Bass (Epinephelus alexandrinus) and Common Sea Bream (Pagrus pagrus). The gear used is bottom set long-lines. Usually these longlines are set in deep rocky areas near the slope, at depths of 200 m or more. Two different demersal set long-lines are used in Malta, which target species of different sizes. Vessels are usually larger than 10 m in length and approximately 30 vessels are engaged in this fishery with about 90 fishers.
Traps are used to catch a wide range of demersal species and are constructed in different shapes and sizes according to the species targeted. The material used to construct these traps also varies according to species. For species such as Moray Eel (Muraena helena), Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris) and Spiny Lobster (Palinurus elephas), the material used is wire netting, whilst for Bogue (Boops boops), Picarel (Spicara spp.) and similar species, the material used is cane cut into fine strips or special reeds which are imported from North Africa. Trap shape varies according to the habits of the targeted species; thus, for bottom hugging species the shape would be rectangular, whilst oval or round shaped traps are used for mid-water species. There are approximately 180-200 vessels using traps, all of the ‘kajjik’ and small ‘luzzu’ types, with lengths under 10 m. The number of fishermen per boat varies from one to two. The product is always consumed locally and sold as fresh fish.
Coastal pelagic fishing in the Maltese Islands has been practised for a very long time and at least since 1930, when ‘lampara’ fishing was first introduced locally. Up to a few years ago, it formed a very important part of the total national fishing effort; during this time landings of Chub Mackerel (Scomber japonicus), Atlantic Mackerel (Scomber scombrus), Horse Mackerel (Trachurus trachurus), Scad (Trachurus mediterraneus), Bogue (Boops boops), Allice Shad (Alosa alosa), Pilchard (Sardina pilchardus) and Anchovy (Engraulis encrasicholus) were quite high. However, since the 1960s, lampara fishing effort became minimal and subsequent catches are almost insignificant. Sardines and Anchovy in particular were important because they were bought by fishers to use as bait. At present, Atlantic Mackerel which is used as bait is imported. Additionally, before the advent of large scale targeting of Swordfish and Tuna and the introduction of demersal species such as Hake and Red Mullet on a large scale, the local market use to absorb all the catches, especially Chub Mackerel, which was then, along with Dolphin Fish, one of the most sought-after species.
At present only six purse seiners based in Marsaxlokk (Malta) and Mgarr (Gozo) undertake this fishery, with the main targeted species being the Chub Mackerel, which is still marketable to a certain degree. Anchovy and sardines are quite abundant in Maltese waters and they are fished with ‘lampara’ seines. The boats used for this fishery are in the 10–15 m length category. The purse seine is between 400 to 450 m long and about 105 m high. ‘Lampara’ fishing takes place all along the North side of the island, but the main zone is around a shallow area covering about 13 km2, known as Hurd Bank. The depth is between 35 m and 44 m with the intermediate area descending to a maximum of 100 m. Lampara fishing is undertaken throughout the year except for the period from September to December when these boats target the Dolphin Fish.
Bottom trawling is limited in the Maltese area and there are only fifteen licensed bottom trawlers in Malta, involving about 100 fishers. They operate in areas well within the 25 n mile fishing limit, mainly due to the availability of good trawling grounds quite near to the coast. Trawling is undertaken both during the day and night for purely operational reasons. Owing to the complexity of the local market, trawling is also seasonal, in the sense that certain species fetch good prices at particular periods of the year. In actual fact, three different types of trawling activities are undertaken during the year:
(a) Deep sea trawling (during the day) in 600 m and below, where king prawns (Aristeomorpha foliacea and Aristeus antennatus) are targeted. When fishing for king prawns there is almost no by-catch, except for small marketable fish such as Forkbeard (Phycis blennoides), Hake (Merluccius merluccius) and Common Sole (Solea vulgaris). King prawns are found at depths of over 500 m throughout the year at all hours of the day, since sunlight does not penetrate to that depth. The trawling grounds are found in an area about 8 n miles to the northwest of Malta. Since the terrain is mud and free from obstacles, the duration of each trawl is at least 4 hours. Consequently, advantage is taken of the long daylight hours in the summer and at least three trawls a day can be undertaken.
(b) Trawling in depths of between 150m and 200 m (during the day) where the terrain is mainly mud and clay yields shrimps (Parapenaeus longirostris), Hake (Merluccius merluccius), Red Mullet (Mullus surmuletus and Mullus barbatus), Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris), Japanese Squid (Todarodes sagittatus), Cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) and marketable by-catches of Dogfish, Spotted Dogfish, skates and rays (Raja spp.), Bogue (Boops boops) and Scad (Trachurus mediterraneus). These species are fished very close to land (3-4 n miles) and the activity is mainly carried out in winter, when the weather does not allow fishing in deeper waters.
(c) Trawling at night in depths of between 50m and 150 m on heterogeneous bottoms (such as Hurd Bank), yields Red Mullet (Mullus barbatus), Comber (Serranus spp.), Pandora (Pagellus spp.), squid, cuttlefish and Weaver (Trachinus spp.). This type of trawling is undertaken all along the northern side of the island but the main zone is on and around Hurd Bank where stocks are more abundant. Trawl time can never be longer than one hour, since the rough terrain would put too much strain on the trawl nets and damage them. This allows for several trawls to be carried out during the night.
In all cases, the nets used are the ‘Mazara’ type otter trawls which are adjusted according to the type of terrain on which operations are being conducted.
Last updated 21 September 2008