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Benthic Secondary Production and Essential Fish Habitats in the Malta FMZ (BENSPEFISH)

 

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest by fisheries scientists in ecosystem-based fisheries management, where fish stocks are no longer considered in isolation but as one component of an integrated ecosystem that includes the water column and the seabed.  Such a management strategy requires a good knowledge of the components of the ecosystem and how they interact together. Thus knowledge of the benthic habitats and the benthic assemblages that they support is essential since such habitats provide feeding and breeding grounds for fish, while their biota play an important role in the transfer of biomass from the water column to the seabed and back again.

Previous to 2004, Malta operated an Exclusive Fishing Zone (EFZ) that extended to 25 nautical miles from the baselines of the Maltese Islands. With the entry of Malta into the European Union, this zone was maintained as a Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ). Due to the management regime operated by Malta within the previous EFZ since the early 1970s, demersal and benthic resources have suffered little fishing pressure, and the new management regime now operating in the Malta FMZ is designed to continue to conserve the fisheries resources within the area. However, knowledge of the demersal fisheries resources within this area is still poor, although data are now being accumulated through Maltese participation in trawl surveys (MEDITS and GRUND, since 2000) and in the FAO programme MedSudMed. Through the latter programme, information on benthic assemblages within this area has been collected since 2003.

The BENSPEFISH project aims to address the lack of knowledge that exists on essential fish habitats (in terms of foraging areas, nursery grounds, and spawning sites) for most commercially important fish and other species within the Maltese FMZ. The main objectives of the BENSPEFISH project are to:

  1. Locate essential fish habitats and to identify common benthic features that may attract fish and other exploited species to these habitats;
  2. Characterise in terms of benthic assemblages and physical characteristics of the seabed such benthic habitats including foraging areas, nursery grounds, and spawning areas important for fish and other exploited species;
  3. Study the physical and biological response of the benthic ecosystem to different regimens of fishing disturbance within existing fishing grounds;
  4. Investigate the use of benthic secondary production on deep water fishing grounds by selected species of fish and other species, both those of direct commercial importance and those that form part of the food chain of exploited species.

Current work being carried out as part of the BENSPEFISH project includes the identification and characterisation of the benthic biocoenoses within the Maltese FMZ, studies on the epibiota of hard inclusions from deep water habitats within the FMZ, research on the distribution, population dynamics and ecology of select deep water species such as Corallum rubrum (click here), Squalus blainville (click here) and Scyliorhinus canicula (click here), as well as studies on the fishers’ perception of the FMZ and its actual influence on the demersal community structure. Abstracts of selected recent publications can be found here.



 

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Last Updated: 7 March 2017

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