Fisheries have always played an integral part of the Maltese economy, providing income to numerous households throughout history. Fish caught in Maltese territorial waters is not only consumed locally but an increasing share of catches is being exported to foreign markets. The physical and resource constraints faced by local fishermen must be taken into consideration when examining the context and growth potential of the sector.
Although there are a significant number of registered fishermen, their average income is considerably low, when compared to their counterparts in the European Union and other competitor countries. This means that the share of the economy attributed to fishing is small and on the decline.
The safety and standards of the Maltese fishing fleets are a priority and thus, the Government is committed to drive the adoption of high standards for all fishing vessels and to ensure that proper safety practices are adhered to across the board. Enforcement will also play a key role in order to guarantee the security of our territorial waters.
Environmental sustainability must also be considered in the context of the development and growth of the fishing sector. The Government will ensure that biodiversity in the marine environment is protected and that Malta’s obligations in this regard are respected. This also applies to international fishing quotas, which promote sustainable fishing practices in the long-run. Furthermore, the Government remains committed to reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, which is considered to be one of the threats hindering sustainable fishing.
In line with the EU drive to reduce wasteful fishing practices, the Government will promote the rediscovery of different fish varieties through institutions and fishing cooperatives. Moreover, the new fish market is an additional tool to foster further value added factors in the fishing industry. It will not only facilitate and offer support to the industry but also enable the sector to be more cost-effective.
The Government is committed to improve the profitability of the fisheries sector by increasing investment and targeting crucial growth areas. One of the areas that will be considered is the infrastructural improvement of fishing ports, which will help promote efficient practices whilst also protecting the local social-economic culture.
In order to add further value to the fishing sector, the Government will encourage the development of the fish processing industry and encourage a move from the primary segment (extraction phase) into the second (manufacturing phase) and third (services) segments. This would increase the share of the fisheries and aquaculture sector in the Maltese economy.
The role of the public sector is to facilitate the operations of local fishermen by establishing a level-playing field platform whilst offering much needed support and aid to growing entities. The aim is to reverse current trends of reduction in catches compared to registered fishing fleets.
It is also imperative to better promote local produce in foreign markets and ensure that Malta’s high quality reputation is maintained. Food quality minimum standards must be improved in order to increase the attractiveness of the Maltese product abroad and create a competitive advantage in the market. To this effect, the Government has outlined the support for these initiatives and opportunities through the Operational Programme 2014-2020 that is linked to the EMFF strategy objectives.
The Government will also explore the possibility of amalgamating two of the country’s main sources of employment and income, namely; fishing and tourism. The concept of fishing tourism is becoming increasingly popular in the international scene and it would be wise for Malta to tap into this new niche.
The aquaculture sector has developed and grown significantly over the last decade, mostly thanks to investment towards research and innovation. Years of work have enabled Malta to build a respectable reputation in this field at the international level. Malta does face physical constraints in relation to the volume of cost-effective fish farms it can host close to its shores; nevertheless, opportunities do exist to promote the location of farms further out at sea. This would also have lesser impacts on water quality, competition with other uses, as well as intrusion in coastal landscapes. Furthermore, it can surely consolidate the latter factors with its strengths in knowledge and expertise, particularly where research is being made on farming of new species.
In 2012, farmed fish production exceeded beef production at the global level and we have also reached the point where the number of fish produced through aquaculture matches that of fish caught in the wild. Notwithstanding, aquaculture production has stagnated in recent years, partially due to the low return on the most common species produced and partially due to environmental concerns related to fish farming.
The environmental considerations associated with this sector must be carefully evaluated and the implications need to be studied in order to ensure the overall wellbeing of the marine environment. In this respect, there is a need to promote research and innovation in new environmentally sustainable technologies in aquaculture. Amongst the new production technologies being developed is the Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA). IMTA has been identified by the EU as a long term sustainable opportunity for commercial aquaculture and, to this effect, an EU funded research project (i.e. Increasing Industrial Resource Efficiency in European Mariculture (IDREEM)) has been launched-.
The Government plans to further invest in research relating to the aquaculture sector, especially targeting new higher value added species as well as innovative sustainable production technologies. The exploration of new markets, niche demands as well as new production technologies will also be explored in order to diversify the local knowledge-base. This will lead to the commercialisation of research carried out and increase the profitability of the sector. A concentration of a highly skilled workforce will further strengthen Malta’s already positive reputation and enable us to export knowledge and expertise to foreign markets.
At present, the Centre for Aquaculture already has very good relationship with local and foreign educational institutions with regard to fin fish species development. However, the Government is committed to encourage further collaboration and the exchange of best practices in order to fuel the growth and development of the sector.
The Government’s approach has been to encourage participation of private enterprise, as its involvement is essential for the success of the aquaculture sector and to facilitate interactions within the market.
Biotechnology and Blue Pharma
Our surrounding marine environment offers vast opportunities that go beyond the traditional business sectors but that with the support of adequate investment and research, it can contribute significantly towards economic growth. Biotechnology and blue pharma will bring about job creation, which will require a highly skilled workforce.
To cater for such skills demand, the Government will focus on offering the necessary educational framework required to train potential employees and to re-skill workers in order to meet the technical skill requirements of this dynamic market.
The biotechnology field is a vast and dynamic one and therefore the Government will identify the main priority areas that would yield the most economic growth for Malta. By doing so, it will be able to devise the adequate instruments that will lead to an optimal exploitation of the available resources in a sustainable manner. A strong relationship with the private sector in this regard is essential. Private enterprise will have a much better perception of the market and will thus be in a better position to forecast future trends in the sector. This will enable Government to provide for the ideal policy framework leading to further growth and development.
In the local context, the pharmaceutical sector has proved to be a success story and one that should be emulated throughout other sectors. The Government will continue to build on the results acquired so far with special interest in the field of blue pharma. Investment in research and product development is essential, as is the creation of a clear platform regulating the sector. The Government will promote the sector in the international fora and will ensure that the Maltese industry will be an example of best practices and high standards. Undoubtedly, education will definitely be the main pillar for growth in the blue pharma sector and the Government is committed in addressing any skills gap that may arise within the field.