Malta’s tuna companies ran a summer-long campaign with two specialised boats manning the entire coast from Mellieħa down to Wied iż-Żurrieq, clearing oil slicks, maritime flotsam, and all matter of rubbish reported to its special hotlines.
A successful wrap-up of a summer clean-up campaign by Malta’s tuna farmers was yet another initiative undertaken by Aquaculture Resources Limited, the operating arm of the Federation of Malta Aquaculture Producers, that demonstrated its commitment to social responsibility and environmental stewardship throughout its economic activities.
“We seek to improve our clean-up endeavours each year: this is not simply a reactive mission, but a committed belief in playing our part in ensuring the health and cleanliness of our waters,” said ARL director Charlon Gouder.
Crucially, ARL’s two clean-up teams this year carried out an intensive monitoring of the Maltese coast, thanks to two hotlines that allowed the public to file reports of trash at sea. The results speak for themselves. “Ultimately, we believe that anyone who uses the sea as a resource, has to contribute to its upkeep and cleanliness. We are ready to play our part, and hope to be even more proactive in harnessing the good will of those who are actively involved in the constant clean-up activities of our coasts and seas,” said Charlon Gouder.
What has the tuna industry done to address the environmental consequences of its industry?
Reducing the impact on the sea and sustainability is a key pillar of the Maltese tuna industry. Tuna penning operations are already closely monitored so that during the controlled feeds of raw fish to tuna, any sea slime that might derive from baitfish is prevented and collected rapidly at source. This is usually a slick of protein and fat, that is itself natural and biodegradable, but there is no arguing that its presence is unpleasant in Maltese coastal waters.
How was the clean-up in summer organised?
ARL commissioned two teams of dedicated clean-up boats, equipped with maritime cleaning tools as well as RHIBs that could access tiny spaces at sea, to monitor a large stretch of the Maltese coast, from Mellieħa in the north down to the south-western coast at Wied iż-Żurrieq. These two teams, large boats manned by three workers each, received alerts from two public hotlines that allowed them to react immediately to reports on all forms of trash found at sea: one team covered a northern route from Mellieħa to Valletta, while the southern route continued from the Valletta breakwater right to Wied iż-Żurrieq.
What trash was picked up at sea?
Typically, the trash collected by the two teams included all forms of maritime flotsam generated by various industrial practices or even recreational fisheries. This trash included various plastics, jablo boxes, wooden pallets, organic waste, but also engine oils in which the ARL teams played an important part in corralling and removing from the sea. Using special muslin nets, rather than a skimmer, these teams have been painstakingly collecting oil waste at sea, by concentrating it using booms, and then picking it up. In the case of complex spills, the ARL contacted Transport Malta to effect an immediate recovery of the oil waste. ARL also collaborated with the clean-up NGO Żibel on an oil spill report near Buġibba, allowing ARL’s clean-up teams to effect an immediate 7am recovery of the waste oil just hours after the report came in.
What about the sea slime that is often generated from these Operations?
While the tuna pens are located around 5 km away from the Mellieħa coast, these are regularly inspected by the Environment and Resources Authority on a weekly basis. Here trained farm employees collect and capture the uncaptured slime by keeping all marine installations clean at source. This year, ARL ensured its clean-up teams were on hand to collect any by-product from the tuna feeding process that could generate so-called ‘sea slime’. However, it is also true that after storms, natural slicks can be formed when strong currents pick up algae dislodged from the seaweed beds, with their nutrient naturally dispersed into the form of a slimy slick. Indeed, in previous years even the ERA has acknowledged that blooms of blue-green algae have been responsible for the foamy substance known as ‘sea snot’. Which also happens in countries around the World and in the Mediterranean, in areas where there is no tuna farming taking place.
Why is tuna an important part of the Maltese economy?
The farming of Atlantic bluefin tuna is a significant contributor to the local economy in Malta. The Maltese tuna farming industry generated nearly 1,000 local full-time employment opportunities in 2021 alone. The total output of both aquaculture and tuna farming industries in Malta generated €225 million in 2021, a 26% increase over 2020.
How is tuna caught by the Maltese tuna-pen industry?
Like many other Mediterranean countries, Malta’s tuna ranching industry employs familiar technologies: generally, the fish are caught by purse seines during the summer months; once caught, they are transferred into large cages, where the process of fattening begins, by feeding tuna raw fish. Harvesting occurs from October to January: during this period, whole fish are typically filleted on board purpose-built vessels. Prime cuts are stored in freezers, and the product is then directly shipped off to consumer markets, mainly to Japan. Today, the off-cuts – the head, tail, fins, viscera, and bone material – are no longer discarded during the harvesting process, but retained, refrigerated, for further processing at a specially-built, state-of-the-art factory in Ħal Far, that turns it into pet food.
How is tuna farming actually regulated?
Malta’s tuna farmers work within the controls set by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which carries out assessments on tuna biomass and spawning stock. This means Maltese tuna companies must catch fish that generally range in size between 100 kg and 250 kg, and also follow the strict quotas handed down by the ICCAT for each member country. These quotas have in the recent past allowed a full recovery plan over the years, that means tunas are no longer considered to be overfished.
Why is regulation important?
The tuna ranching industry continues to flourish due to the lucrative Maltese export market in Japan. The high demand for high-quality Atlantic bluefin tuna in Japan, driven by search for the delectable tuna belly (toro), underscores Maltese tuna’s formidable reputation as the mark of good quality. For this reason, ICCAT rules and quotas for each member state, ensures sustainable stocks of tuna each year, and prevents overfishing that might damage the sustainability of tuna stocks from one season to the other.
In conclusion, Malta’s tuna industry, represented by Aquaculture Resources Limited, has demonstrated its commitment to environmental stewardship through a successful summer clean-up campaign along the Maltese coast. Their proactive efforts, including two dedicated clean-up teams and public hotlines for reporting trash at sea, have addressed oil slicks, maritime debris, and various forms of litter.
While the industry acknowledges occasional natural sea slime, it remains focused on minimising its impact. Additionally, the tuna industry significantly contributes to Malta’s economy and operates under ICCAT regulations to ensure responsible fishing practices and sustainable tuna stocks, reinforcing Malta’s reputation for high-quality Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Report debris, dispose responsibly, and back sustainable tuna!