Maltese fisheries and the sustainability of resources around the Maltese islands
Despite the socio-cultural importance of Maltese fisheries, a very limited number of studies and reports on the industry have been published, and scientific studies on the interaction between the Maltese fishing fleet and the fisheries resources exploited have never been carried out. Data collection schemes to monitor Maltese fisheries were also found to be extremely limited, however, this study has analysed the information arising from recently initiated data collection programmes, coordinated by the author, related to the fleet, its activities and the resources exploited; these programmes were namely a fishing fleet census, catch and effort sampling schemes and trawl surveys. This study has described the profile of the Maltese fishing fleet and its activities, determined the relative importance of different fisheries, estimated the spatial distribution of fishing effort, addressed the impact of the fishing operations of the Maltese fleet on the demersal fisheries resources within the Maltese Exclusive Fishing Zone (EFZ) and other resources targeted by the fleet, as well as discussed the impact of an increase in fishing activities on the Maltese population involved in the fishing industry. On the basis of the results a theoretical management regime was proposed to ensure the sustainability of Maltese fisheries compliant with the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries. The study concludes that both the introduction of industrial fishing methods and any further increase in artisanal fishing would have negative impacts on the Maltese population involved in the fishing industry which is economically, geographically and culturally dependent on artisanal fisheries. In particular, the fishing capacity and related effort associated with demersal fisheries in the Maltese EFZ should not be increased in order to ensure their sustainability and the fishing effort distribution should not be altered, especially in the case of trawling, in order to safeguard the fish "refugia" which exist in the EFZ. On the other hand, the sustainability of large pelagic species in the waters around Malta largely depends on international efforts to manage these fish stocks, and in view of the fact that they account for more than two thirds of the annual value of landings, it is in the country's interest to collaborate and contribute to the regional management process. The proposed management regime essentially limits the fishing capacity and effort of various fisheries, protects fish refugia and safeguards artisanal fisheries. With these management proposals in place, the Maltese EFZ could, in essence, constitute a large Marine Protected Area (MPA) with sustainable use objectives. Also, a number of complimentary recommendations for future fishery and biological data collection programmes and studies have been made. The need for support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the European Union together with the importance of collaboration with scientific institutions from neighbouring countries in order to realistically undertake these tasks within the next ten years was also highlighted.