The commitment by operators in tuna industry to protect maritime environment

Over the last few years, Malta has developed a fish-farming industry: especially the breeding of tuna in large cages just off our coast. This industry is employing around 300 people directly and more than 1,100 more workers indirectly. Jordan Cutajar, a fisherman, is one of these employees, who explained that the cycle of work at sea is between May and November.

“In May when we go out fishing, we spend a month at sea on high seas to catch it and bring it back to put it to the fish farm.”

While they are in the cages, the tuna grow by around 40% from the feed which is given to them six times a week. Tonnes of feed are placed in another smaller cage and the net is opened by a diver, which according to one of the operators, Etienne Gatt, reduces much of the waste and pollution.

“You are controlling the feed being used for the tuna, and secondly you are controlling extra feed from falling to the bottom of the sea bed which causes pollution. In this way we are also controlling the amount of fish which the tuna needs to eat, because it should not eat more than it is supposed to,” Mr Gatt pointed out.

The farming of tuna is done according to environmental permits issued by the ERA and over the last three years, with the aim of reducing the inconvenience to swimmers, the cages near the St Paul’s islands were moved further out, and every cage is equipped with booms to contain the feed and oil which may seep through.

There is also a small boat which collects any debris to prevent it from ending up in our seas. The CEO of the Federation of Acquacultural products,  Charlon Gouder said: “We believe in the sustainability of this industry in other words one cannot have growth if we do not take care of the sea around us.”

He added that operators who are members of the Federation have just agreed on having higher standards than those stipulated by law with the aim of strengthening Malta’s reputation and the industry in general which is generating around €250 million a year.

“Malta’s industry is not only the largest in the Mediterranean and the largest in Europe, but also has a reputation within giant international markets such as Japan”, Dr Gouder.

It is estimated that 90% of the tuna grown in Malta was exported towards Japan where the pandemic has had an impact on the price of quality tuna such as that exported from Malta, with reports that imports have gone down by one third.

The impact of COVID on tuna aquaculture in Malta is difficult to estimate.

Etienne Gatt said that in less than two months, Japanese buyers are expected to come to Malta to buy tuna, however the prices and the quantities they will buy are still a mystery.

“To date the indications are that they are planning to come here to buy this tuna but there is still a while to wait before September, so we will see what happens,” he said.

Despite the uncertainty, the main operators are continuing to create the commercial opportunities so that the remains of the tuna will be processed and sold as other products including fish oil.

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