Maltese small scale fisheries (SSF) have been declining in number and confidence that fishermen's traditional skills will be passed on to their children. As lifestyles and marine life have been changing, full-time artisanal fishermen face increasing problems.
In this regard, Prof. Adriana Vella and Dr Noel Vella have co-authored a new chapter on the status of Maltese SSF in an international book titled Small-Scale Fisheries in Europe: Status, Resilience and Governance .
As commercial fisheries have grown, SSF have increasingly seen their valuable and often sustainable activities affected by an impoverishing and degrading marine environment. What was once shared by a whole community of dedicated and year round artisanal fishermen, has been over-exploited by large businesses that seek to satisfy global requests until stocks last. Marine biodiversity conservation needs sustainable development targets to be reached but though 2020 is here, this urgent need has not been achieved yet. This is seriously jeopardising marine life and future Maltese SSF.
Mediterranean marine biodiversity is also under threat due to the introduction of almost 1000 non-indigenous species with new species continuously being spotted. Their entry into the Mediterranean is mostly facilitated by shipping activities from the Atlantic and the Red Sea.
The Conservation Biology Research Group at the University of Malta (CBRG-UM), led by Prof Adriana Vella, has been actively working with sea users, including artisanal and recreational fishermen, scuba divers, skin divers, Transport Malta, the AFM and the NGO BICREF for many years as part its long-term research efforts to monitor changes in local marine species.
This has led to the discovery of new alien species in Maltese waters, with some recorded in the Mediterranean for the first time by the CBRG-UM, including the Cocoa damselfish, the Indopacific sergeant, the Squirrelfish, the Niger hind, the African Sergeant and the Dory snapper. Collaborating sea-users have learnt from CBRG-UM biologists the identity of these species and how these species may affect local marine life.
(Above: the lionfish)
This work by the CBRG-UM is accompanied by detailed genetic analyses that allow not only the confirmation of the species identification but may also give an insight on the specimen’s geographic origin. This research group has recorded the presence of the lionfish in Maltese waters in 2016 and continues to follow on these cases through the immediate communications from fishermen, SCUBA divers and other sea users.
Some of these non-native species have now adapted to their new environment, reproducing and rapidly increasing in numbers with the risk of destabilising native ecological communities. This is a serious situation that may impoverish native marine life through the invasiveness of some of these species that grow without control. Examples of such species include different species of pufferfish, the blue swimmer crab and the dusky spinefoot.
The SOS Marine life! Conserve Natives & Control Aliens research work has the support of Transport Malta’s Notice to Mariners (No 42 of 2020) which informs all sea-users to report sightings in Maltese waters of dolphins, whales, turtles, sharks, rays, jellyfish blooms and alien species immediately to Prof Vella, CBRG-UM. This supplements ongoing long-term field research by the CBRG-UM itself.
Alien specimen that are contributed for CBRG-UM research leading to timely conservation and mitigation measures, will be eligible for a token provided by a sponsor. As long-term conservation research and monitoring is essential to safeguard native biodiversity, sponsors are also helpful and welcome.