Fishing in Malta

Fishing Vessels

The majority of fishing vessels are of traditional build as the luzzu and kajjik. The kajjik is the most prevalent vessel, there being two and a half times as many as there are luzzus. Following the Kajjik, the Multi-Purpose vessel is the most common. There are only a limited number of trawlers, most of which are under 24 metres in length and use a “Mazzara” type of trawl net.

Multi-purpose vessel

MPVThe MPV’s have an average overall length of 8 metres. These vessels are a relatively recent addition to the fleet, and the average age is twelve years. This is reflected in the hull material, with the majority being made of fibreglass whilst the remainder being constructed of wooden planking, and to a lesser degree marine plywood. The average gross tonnage is 4.6 mt and the average power is 78 kw.


Luzzu2The luzzu is the foremost traditional fishing vessel. It is pointed at both ends and is painted in characteristic bright colours. Before the introduction of modern registration, the colour of the prow used to indicate the home port of each particular boat. The average overall length is 6.7 metres and the hull material is wood. These vessels have been the mainstay of the fleet in times gone by and their average age is 37 years old. The average GT is half that of the MPV i.e. 2.3 mt, and subsequently the average power is 30 kW.

They are brightly painted in shades of yellow, red, green and blue, and the bows normally pointed with a pair of eyes. These eyes may be the modern survival of an ancient Phoenician custom (also practiced by the ancient Greeks); they are sometimes (and probably inaccurately) referred to as the Eye of Horus or of Osiris.

The luzzu has a double-ended hull. A variant, the kajjik, is similar in appearance, but has a square transom.

The design of the Luzzu, like that of another Maltese boat, the dghajsa, is believed to date back at least to the Phoenician times. The luzzu has survived because it tends to be a sturdy and stable boat even in bad weather. Originally, the luzzu was equipped with sails although nowadays almost all are motorised, with onboard diesel engines being the most common. Some luzzi have been converted to passenger carriers for tourists although the vast majority continue to be used as fishing vessels.

The luzzu is one of the symbols of Malta and is featured on the reverse of the older series (1979-89) of Maltese lira notes.


kajjik2The Kajjik differs from the luzzu in being generally smaller (average length 4.6 metres) and being flat ended at the stern. Previously, they were made of wood, but in recent years fibreglass has been the material of choice, with the consequence that at present, with the average age being 19 years, there are marginally more fibreglass Kajjiks than wooden ones. With an average GT of 1, the average power is only 17 kW.

The name caique was probably introduced by the knights who governed Malta from 1530, although it probably attained its local character in the beginning of the 19th century.

During the order caiques were used to protect the islands from Muslims and were armed with small guns.  Galleys had their own caique which was used as a lifeboat.  In the 19th century it was classified as an ozzo and so this confuses the distinction between it and the luzzu.

The Ferilla

imageThe Ferilla is almost identical in design to the luzzu but the bulwark is secured to the outside of the stem post and sternpost.

It therefore belongs to the Dghajsa family but it is wider.

The boats rarely exceed 8 metres in length.  The stem post and sternpost are longer than that of the luzzu.  In the past it used to be commonly used as a lamp boat during he lampara fishing. There are very few examples of this boat today.

The Frejgatina

IMG_2860This is a relatively small fishing boat and was used mostly as an auxiliary boat for lampara fishing.  Its bow is not tall and tapered outward like the luzzu and caique and is therefore not sea worthy.  It is often used as a means of transporting the fishermen from the shore to his fishing boat.

The Bimbu

IMG_2857This fishing craft has the front resembling a modern fishing boat or lanca while the back part resembles the luzzu.  It is a recent introduction to the repertoire of fishing vessels and it is similar to other boats found in Sicily.  It is not so popular in Malta and it does not have the characteristic colorful colours and falki.

The Lanca

IMG_2862This is a fishing craft which cannot be classified as a traditional fishing boat. It is larger in size and designed for commercial fishing.  Such boats are classified as MFVs (Malta Fishing Vessels).


These are widely-decked fishing boats designed to accommodate the trawl net and exceed 18m. They are also equipped with powerful engines which are required to drag the net.



Boat parts 1a

boat parts 2a

The Gozo Boat – Dghajsa tal-Latini

Registration of Boats

Old records of registers kept by the maritime police and registers of boats sold in Malta give us invaluable information which is however at times misleading.

IMG_2866In the case of the caique we encounter the name ozzo which was however also used for the luzzu.  Besides, boats which had a particular shape, size and purpose in the past, evolved throughout the centuries and acquired different properties.

Until recently, fishing boats were registered as F for full time fishermen and PTF for part timers.

Since September 2004 these have changed.  An MFA registered boat is used by professional fishermen, an MFB by part timers, an MFC for recreational fishing, and MFD are work boats used in auxiliary work for fishing purposes.

MFC registered boats are not allowed to use fishing nets or long lines for catching swordfish, tuna and albacore.  Every fishing vessel in category A, B and C which is above 10m in length has to carry a logbook and register in it the types of fish caught by weight.

Fishing Vessels – the colours of Malta

The fishing boats of Malta are instantly recognisable by their colours: a deep marine blue, a terracotta red and a pastel yellow interspersed with streaks of white and green. All natural colours reminiscent of the land, the sea, the sun and the green fields.

Most boats comprising the island’s fishing fleet tend to follow this informal arrangement with each individual vessel sporting its own combination of the iconic colours in varying patterns and arrangements.

The biggest concentration of fishing boats is to be found in the sizable fishing village of Marsaxlokk  although other examples can be found in Birzebbuga, Marsascala, Marsamxett Harbour, St. Julians and St. Paul’s Bay on Malta and Mgarr Harbour and Marsalforn in Gozo.

The ubiquitous colours of the boats make them ideal subjects for tourist literature and their shapes, profiles, colours and details have been used for generations upon generations of tourism advertising and branding for Malta by the tourism industry.

But contrary to the expectation that such a brand-like set of markings is the result of some marketing agency’s handbook, these instantly recognisable colour schemes date back at least three centuries and must have already prevailed during the last decades of the Knights of St. John’s rule in Malta.  Most probably they constituted a practical way of recognising one’s own compatriots on the high seas of the Central Mediterranean especially when competing with fishing fleets from neighbouring Sicily and Tunisia during the fishing season.


Fishing Gear


Driftnets (Għezula tat-Tisqif / Għezula tal-Mitlaq)

These drifnets nets are locally known as Għezula. They were used throughout the year but mainly from January to March.

These drifnets are single gillnets of 44 mm mesh size knot. They are approximately 4-5 m in length. Their lengths depend on the places where they are to be used.

The “Għoli/Għezula” is usually set at 2 or 3 a.m. The net is left to drift with the current and has to be continually inspected by the fishermen. Around 6 a.m. the nets are pulled out.

The main effort is undertaken in waters around 15 to 25m depth.

Mainly species caught with this type of net include little tunny (Euthynnus alletteratus), Mediterranean horse mackerel Trachurus mediterraneus) and melva (Auxis rochei).

This is no longer used due to a UN resolution.

Trammel nets (Parit)

paritThe trammel net is locally known as Parit.

These nets are bottom set nets consisting of three walls of netting. The two outer walls have a mesh size of 140 mm knot to knot, whilst the central net has a constant 22 or 28 mm mesh. They are approximately 2 to 2.5 meters deep. The conventional length of the Parit is about 120 m. Fishermen tie together up to five of the nets in series.

The “Parit” is usually set at 4 or 5 p.m. The fishermen go back at sunrise, around 6 a.m. and then the nets are pulled out.

The main effort is undertaken in internal waters along the coast where depth varies from 10-30 m. The terrain varies from posidonia meadows to rocky and sandy areas.

They are mainly used during the winter months when the weather does not allow long term fishing on the high seas.

Species caught with this type of net include red mullets (Mullus surmuletus), octopus (Octopus vulgaris), cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis), and species belonging to the genus Scorpaena (Scorpaena spp).

Combined gillnets-trammel nets (Parit Xkitt)

These combined gillnets-trammel nets are locally known as Parit Xkitt.

These bottom set nets are composed by two different types of nets. A single gillnet of 22 mm mesh size is above a trammel net so that along with species caught by normal trammel nets, mid-water species such as bogue (Boops boops), mediterranean horse mackerel (Trachurus mediterraneus) and little tunny (Euthynnus alletteratus) are also caught. Below the single gillnet there is a common trammel net, consisting of three walls of netting, the two outer walls have a mesh size of 140 mm knot to knot, whilst the central net has a constant 22 or 28 mm mesh. They are approximately 3 to 3.5 m deep.

The “Parit Xkitt” is usually set at 4 or 5 p.m. The fishermen go back at  sunrise, around 6 a.m., to pull out the nets.

The main effort is undertaken in waters around 15 to 30m deep. The terrain varies from posidonia meadows to rocky and sandy areas.

They are mainly used from January to October.

Species caught with this type of net include red mullets (Mullus surmuletus), octopus (Octopus vulgaris), cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis), species belonging to the genus Scorpaena (Scorpaena spp) and the mid-water species mentioned above.


Set longlines (Konz tal-Qiegħ)

konzThe bottom set longlines are locally known as Konz tal-Qiegħ.

These longlines usually have between 600 and 700 hooks. The size of the hooks depends on the species targeted (sizes 10 and 11). Pieces of chub mackerel are used to bait the hooks. The longlines are wound up in a circular basket and the hooks are attached to the cork which border the rim of the basket.

Full-time fishermen set the longline around 11 p.m. and they pull out the longline after approximately four hours in order to arrive in time at the fish market to sell their landings.

Part–time fishermen set the longline at 5 or 6 p.m. and they go back to port. They go back at 5 a.m. to pull out the longline.

Usually these longlines are set in deep rocky areas at depths ranging from 90 to 130 m.  This fishery takes place throughout the year.

Common dentex (Dentex dentex), white seabream (Diplodus sargus) and common pandora (Pagellus erythrinus) are the main targeted species.

Trolling lines (Rixa)

rixaThe trolling line is locally known as Rixa.

These trolling lines are 30 meters long, with only 2 hooks of size no 11, where artificial lures are attached. The distance between the two hooks is 1 ½ m approximately. The fishery is undertaken during the morning or during the afternoon (never at noon) for four or four and half hours.

These lines are pulled behind a moving boat and predatory fish try to swallow them.

The fishery is mainly carrried out away from the shore (at least 7 miles). This gear is mainly used during the second half of the year, from August to January.

Species caught with this trolling line are dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus) and amberjack (Seriola dumerili).

Squid Jigger (Kulpara)

squid jigger2

The Kulpara are hand lines that target squids (Loligo vulgaris).

The Kulpara consists of a rosette of hooks. When the squid grabs to the hooks the line is suddenly pulled up. The fishery is always undertaken at night, from 8 p.m. to midnight or 1 a.m.  The boats fish close to the shore at depths of 20-25 m.

This fishery is practised all year round, the best months being  between September and March.  Catches are better when there is full moon.


Surrounding Net (Xibka tal-Lampuki)

lampukiDolphinfish, Lampuki in Maltese, are captured using “fish aggregating devices” (FAD’s) called kannizzati. These kannizzati are small rafts made of floating material which are anchored to the seabed. They were introduced after it was noticed that dolphinfish tend to aggregate within the canopy of shadow that these floats make.

Once the dolphinfish are aggregated, they are caught by surrounding nets without purse-lines. When the boat is near a kannizzati various trolls made out of feathers or artificial bait are set and when one fish is caught, a decoy dolphinfish is thrown into the sea to attract any others that may be present under the kannizzati. When the number of fish present makes it worthwhile the surrounding operation (15 to 20 minutes) is then undertaken.
lampuki2This fishery is carried out at night from the sunset to the sunrise. Usually the vessels fish for two nights and then return to port to land the capture. “Lampuki” fisheries takes place all around the island except for a corridor which is kept free from lampuki kannizzati  so that swordfish fishing can be undertaken. The sites start from 7 miles offshore at intervals of one half or three quarters of a mile depending on the district. Each vessel lay up to 300-400 kannizzati in a straight line (up to 130 nautical miles) along the way points indicated by the Fisheries Department. The distance between each kannizzata is 0.25 nautical miles.

The dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus) season extends from September to November.
Dolphinfish or lampuka (in Maltese) is one of the most important species for the economy of the Maltese fishing industry. Another species fished as by-catch in this fishery are pilot fish (Naucrates ductor), amberjack (Seriola dumerilii) and wreckfish (Polyprion americanus).
The total number of boats involved in the fishery is aproximately 100.

Lampara (Small pelasic purse seines – one boat operated purse seines)

lamparaThis surrounding net with purse seines is locally known as Lampara.

The term “lampara” is used because fishermen use strong lights to attract fish, which are then caught by purse seining. The purse seine is between 400 to 450 meters long and about 105 meters high. The size of the mesh is a constant 23 mm knot to knot.

The fishing operation is usually undertaken from 7 p.m to 3 or 4 a.m. Two or three small boats (tenders) use strong lights to attract the fish. When it is attracted the tender make a signal to the purse seine and switch off the lights. Then the purse seiner surrounds the fish school and pull out the net.

“Lampara” fishing is undertaken throughout the year except for the period from September to December when these boats target the dolphin fish. Although catches are more or less constant, the peak period is during May.

Species caught with this type of gear include chub mackerel (Scomber japonicus), mediterranean horse mackerel (Trachurus mediterraneus), bogue (Boops boops) and allis shad (Alosa alosa).

Presently  only six purse seiners based in Marsaxlokk (Malta) and Mgarrr (Gozo) undertake this fishery.

“Lampara” fishing takes place all along the North side of the island but the main zone is around a shallow area covering about 5 square miles, known as Hurd Bank.

The allis shad is not consumed but is used as bait in other fisheries.



Pots (Nassa tal-Vopi)

vopiTraps targeting bogue, vopa in Maltese, are locally known as Nassa tal-Vopi.

The material used to construct these traps is cane cut into fine strips or special reeds which are imported from North Africa. The traps used for bogue have a peculiar oval shape.

The “Nassa tal-Vopi” is usually set in the afternoon and pulled out of the water after four or five hours. Usually around 15 of these pots are set at a distance of 1 m from the bottom at 15-20 m depth.

Bait consisting of bread mashed with fine-powdered beans is placed hanging on the side of the pot and the fish enter through the bottom constriction to eat the bait.

This fishery is practised all year round.  The species caught with this type of pot is the bogue (Boops boops). The product is always consumed locally and sells as fresh fish.

Pots (Nassa tal-Qarnit)

qarnitA trap targeting octopus, qarnita in Maltese, are locally known as Nassa tal-Qarnit.

The material used to construct these traps is chicken wire netting. The shape of these traps is rectangular.

The “Nassa tal-Qarnit” is usually always in the water. From 5 to 7 p.m. the fisherman pulls out the traps, takes out the capture, baits the traps again with chub mackerel and then they are set into the water again.

Up to 150 traps could be set together on the bottom at 10-20 m depth. This fishery is practised all year round. The species caught with this type of pot is the octopus (Octopus vulgaris).

The product is always consumed locally and sells as fresh fish.

Pots (Nassa tal-Arznell)

arznellA trap targeting picarel, arznella in Maltese, is locally known as Nassa tal-Arznell.

The material used to construct these traps is cane cut into fine strips or special reeds which are imported from North Africa. The shape of these traps is oval or round.

The “Nassa tal-Arznell” is only used in Gozo. These traps are usually set in the afternoon, around 3 p.m. and are pulled out  after four or five hours. Up to 4 traps are set at a distance of 1 m from the bottom at depths ranging from 15 to 20 m.

No bait is required because it is thought that the fish enter inside the pot to spawn.

This fishery is practised from March to mid May. The species captured with this type of pot is the picarel (Spicara smaris).

The product is always consumed locally and sells as fresh fish.

Nassa Vopi

Tuna fishing – It-Tunnara

By Doris Fenech

imageThere is no doubt that tuna fishing was practiced in the Mediterranean since 8000 BC as blue fin tuna (“tonn”) vertebrae were found in ancient archaeological sites in Greece. The blue fin tuna “thunnus thynnus” can grow up to 3.7 meters in length, weigh 680 kilograms and live for 30 years.

In 1748, the first “Mattanza” “Tunnara” was introduced by Grand Master Pinto. The tuna net was set up and positioned at “il- Fgura” in Mellieha Bay, known for schools (“gliba”), of full-blown blue fin tuna that swims few kilometers away from the coast.

In the months of May, June and July blue fin tuna migrate from the Atlantic ocean to the warmer Mediterranean sea through the Straits of Gibraltar to the original spawning grounds and return back after the season is over in September until October.

Grand Master Pinto financed the Mellieħa “tunnara”.   For many Mellieha fishermen (“sajjieda”)  the tuna industry was their only livelihood. The fishermen were known as sailors (“baħrin”), and the head of the fishermen was called (“ir-rajjes” -“padrun”).

When the (“tunnara”) was fully set up, the villagers would go down to the bay to assist for the blessing of the net. The parish priest was transported on a boat to the “tunnara” site to bless the net to have a good fishing season and to recite prayers for the safety of the men.

At the entrance of the “tunnara”, the “padron”, set up a big wooden cross bearing the artistic holy picture of their patron –  the Madonna of Mellieħa and other devoted Saints. They were very superstitious and they also hanged palm fronds, blessed on Palm Sunday, facing the Mellieħa Sanctuary.

imageThe first tuna net (“xibka” -m”għazel”), was laid on the 3 April 1748. After two months waiting on boats in the blazing sun, the net was raised with a large number of tuna and other big fish.

The fishermen became very skillful and the “tunnara” was so prosperous, that other tunnaretti” were erected.

The “tunnara” was capable of floating. The net was shifted according to the wind and the sea currents – “ic-Cerkewwa”, “ir-Rdum id-Delli”, “il-Gnejna”, “l-Għadira”,” Mistra”, St Paul’s Bay, and “Gnejna”.

The nets were anchored (“ankrati”) to secure the maze nets to the seabed. The largest anchors  “l-kaprajjes”, weighed 4400 kg each  and were stored at “ix-Xquq” known as “kap il-rajjes” and later as Anchor Bay (see photo below).

The “tunnara” consisted of two massive long meshed nets (“xbieki”) made of coconut palm which extended at right angles from the coast and a series of chambers made of vertical nets anchored by stone slabs and kept vertical by about 500 buoys or cork-floats (“sufruni – baga”) and about 30 anchors (“ankri”) and other stones tied to ropes (“mażżri”).

The net was set in the position of the tuna migratory habits. The tuna unaware of what laid before them entered the first section of the tuna trap and passed through the net.  They entered from one chamber to the another until finally they reached the chamber of death (“tqila” – “qtil il-ħut”) from which there was no escape. This chamber had a horizontal floor of netting called the cradle (“kampina”).

A large number of fishermen toiled at the same time on three different types vessels – “ix-Xieru”, “Luzzu” and “Barkazza”.

The main boat was “ix-Xieru” –  long and coated with black tar. It was at least sixty feet long and rowed with large oars to the middle of the Mellieħa Bay. The  “Xieru” had a crew of 40 and was strongly built to withstand the stress of sixteen men struggling at one side raising the net full of tuna.

“Luzzu tas-sinjal” was placed in front of the “tonnara”, with the necessary night lanterns to localize where the tunny net was set.

The “Luzzu” a Maltese traditional type of fishing boat, which was propelled by sails or oars and later by motor engines. The “Luzzu” usually reaches 15 meters in length, with the bow and the stern rising above the rest of the boat in order to protect the crew from the spray of the sea (“raxx tal-baħar”) when moving against the waves. The boat was brightly painted in shades of yellow, red, green and blue. The “Luzzu” prow (“pruwa”) has the most prominent feature, a pair of carved and painted eye of Osiris or Horus.

imageThe “Barkazza”, was a strong boat which accompanied the “xieru” when trapping the tuna fish. It was built strong enough to withstand the hard work of the “tunnara” and was equipped with a wooden windless amidships for the purpose of stretching the heavy tunny net. The boat was placed to guard (“għasses”) the entrance of the net chamber (“kampin”). The men received the tuna in the contrive chamber and signalled to the (“padrun”) the arrival of the tuna.

From another “Barkazza” the “rajjes” gave the order to open the doors and let the tuna pass into the chamber of  death (“tqila” or “qtil il-ħut”). When the net was full with tuna, the padrun shouted “rise!” (“lieva”) and  with great ability the sailors would start lifting the parbuckle (“lenvilli”) of the big net with the strength of their arms while loudly reciting prayers and singing folk songs (“għana”) which was passed down  from one generation to another.

As the bottom of the net (“għazel”) was pulled to the surface the frantic fish would beat the surface of the sea into white spume  as they leapt to escape by rapidly vibrating fins and shaking tails. The tuna were let to swim to get feeble before they were hooked one by one with long-poled hooks.

They were carefully handled to avoid bruising and with great difficulty the large fish were pulled by several men with a hitch (“ingassa”) and placed at the edge of the boat. When all the tuna were pulled out  they sank and anchored the empty cradle net onto the seabed. This action was called “metanza”.

A red flag was used to signal the rise (“lieva”). The church bells  rand  while the Mellieħa villagers would rush down to the bay to give a helping hand with the pulling of the heavy long boats and the huge tuna nets.  They would also help in the loading of the big fish on carts (”karrettuni”) to be carried to the fish market (”pixkerija”) in Valletta.

imageThey had the custom to give a tuna to the inquisitor (”inkwizitur”) as a token for their good catch and another tuna to the Mellieha Sanctuary (“is-Santwarju tal-Madonna”) to be raffled. An oil-lamp was lighted in front of the icon of “Il-Madonna tal-Mellieħa” as an  expression of their gratitude for the abundant catch and for keeping them safe while fishing.

For many years fishmongers proudly roamed every village calling out “Għajnu ħamra it-tonn” (Red eyed tuna) or  “Tal-Mellieha t- tonn’ (Tuna from Mellieha).

imageIn 1907 a warehouse was built at Anchor Bay to be used for the “tunnara” needs. Later they stored the nets and the equipment in the Westreme battery at (“it-trunciera”) in Mellieħa Bay built in 1715 by the Knights of St John.

It is recalled that in 1930’s Dun Frangisk Borg, known as “tan-Niges” was the manager of the “tonnara” followed by Arthur “Turu” Bonnici and later succeeded by his relative Guzi Bugeja.

The manager (“il-manager”) was the owner of the “tonnara” equipment and the holder of the fishing permit. He was responsible for the transaction of the selling of the catch and payed a quarter of the profit in tax. After the manager had his share the rest of the profit was divided equally between the fishermen.

Women helped the men in the repairing and the laying out of the nets in the Sanctuary square to let them dry before stored for winter. Children gave a hand in the selling of the tuna and assisted with the storing of the nets in the small rooms at the Mellieha Sanctuary and at the homes of the “rajjes” and crew.

In 1961 the “tunnara” was casted at “l-Imgiebaħ” in the north of Malta hoping for a bigger catch when a British military vessel based in Malta not knowing the “tunnara” fishing position passed over the nets causing great damages to the equipment.

Owing to financial difficulties the owner and crew refrained from rebuilding the “tunnara”. This hard decision was the end the of the memorable days of the Mellieħa fishing industry.


The Maltese Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ)

In 1971, Malta declared an Exclusive Fishing Zone (EFZ) that extended to 25 nautical miles (n miles) from the baselines of the Maltese Islands (Act XXXII of 1971), in accordance with the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea. With the entry of Malta into the European Union in 2004, this zone was maintained as a Fisheries Management Zone (FMZ) around  the Maltese Islands by EU Council Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) No 813/2004 of 26.04.2004). The Malta EFZ, the first of its kind in the Mediterranean, has an overall area of 6735 km2.



The key aim of the Malta FMZ is to protect the fisheries resources of Malta’s sea area and the ecosystems on which they depend. During the accession negotiations with the EU, Malta presented to the EU a number of studies which showed the negative effects that purse-seining and industrial long-lining (two very intensive fishing methods), as practised by EU fishers, would have in the Maltese EFZ area if this was opened up to these fishery types. The EU recognized the conflict that exists between these intensive fishing methods and the less  intensive passive fishing operations practised to date by the Maltese fishing fleet. For this reason, the EU agreed that when Malta becomes a member state, sustainable fishing in the previous EFZ would be safeguarded through the setting up of a Fisheries Management Zone and the implementation of a variety of management actions. Thus, the Malta FMZ in effect functions as a ‘marine protected area’ albeit being a new type for the Mediterranean.

The measures adopted for the management of resources within the FMZ are designed to limit fishing effort and capacity by restricting size and engine power of fishing vessels.  In particular, only vessels smaller than 12 m are allowed to fish within the zone since these are considered as boats which practise small scale coastal fishing and which are therefore least harmful to the ecological regime within the zone.

However, since the agreed measures do not discriminate between Maltese and EU fishers, Maltese fishers who own boats larger than 12 m will not be able to continue fishing in the 25-n mile zone as they had done in the past. Less than 50 boats are affected by this new regulation and the Maltese Government provided these fishers with financial aid to upgrade their equipment and enhance their fishing efficiency in order to start fishing outside the zone.

By way of exception to the above arrangement, four types of fishing activities are nevertheless allowed within the Malta 25-n mile FMZ by vessels that may be larger than 12 m. These are the following:

a) Trawling

Trawling in designated areas within the FMZ is allowed, although the total trawling capacity within the 25-n mile zone will not be allowed to increase from its present level. The size limitation of trawlers has been set at 24 m. This means that only trawlers smaller than 24 m will be allowed to trawl in specified areas within the FMZ; this measure is designed to conserve existing ‘refugia’ and fragile benthic ecosystems. As a further restriction, in areas where the depth of the sea floor is less than 200 m, such as Hurd Bank, as well as being smaller than 24 m, trawlers must also have an engine capacity that does not exceed 185 kW. There can be no further registration of trawlers, either local or foreign, for fishing in the FMZ.

b) Fishing for Lampuki

The Maltese Authorities has, for many years, maintained a management regime specifically for the Dolphin Fish (Corphaena hippurus; in Maltese ‘Lampuki’) fishery, since fishing operations take place partly within 25 n miles of the coastline (usually starting at 7 n miles). The Maltese Government issues permits for Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) that are laid in the sea along straight-line courses. There are around 130 possible locations where these FAD lines may be placed around the Maltese Islands. In recent years, Maltese fishers have taken up around 110 of these courses. Any FAD lines that remain vacant will be available to any EU fishers who may wish to apply for a permit to fish for lampuki within the Malta FMZ. There is no size restriction on vessels fishing for lampuki. Consequently, a boat that is larger than 12 m can fish for lampuki in the FMZ during the lampuki season. However, only Maltese fishermen will be allowed to fish for lampuki within territorial waters (12 n miles from Maltese shores).

c) Lampara Fishing

There are no restrictions on lampara fishing. This is small-scale pelagic purse seining that consists of fishing with a net that closes up around schools of fish such as Bogue (Boops boops) and Mackerel (Trachurus spp.) that are attracted towards the boats with the aid of a bright light. This type of fishing is dying out locally and there are very few fishers who still practise it in Malta. Lampara fishing in other EU countries mainly targets anchovies and sardines.

d) Fishing for tuna, swordfish and other highly migratory fish

Migratory fish do not fall within the remit of the FMZ, since, being migratory, they are not a resource peculiar to the area.

Efficient monitoring and control of the activities of vessels within the Malta FMZ is supported by an electronic Vessel Monitoring System (VMS). Vessels over 24 meters in length along with those vessels over 12 meters in length that are authorised to carry out fishing operations within the FMZ are obliged to carry the required electronic tracking equipment on board at all time.

Fish Markets

The larger part of fish landings originate from international waters. The main landing sites in Malta are Marsaxlokk Harbour and the Wholesale Fishmarket in Valletta, popularly know as Il-Pixkerija, whilst Mgarr Harbour is the main landing site in Gozo. According to fisheries regulations all fish caught by local fishermen have to be sold through the Wholesale Fish Market in Valletta. Catches are sold by public auction through a middleman  to retailers and fish hawkers. All dealers in fish are registered with the Fisheries Department. Statistical data for fish landings are collected through the daily returns of sales submitted by middlemen at the Valletta Fishmarket. However, this only covers sales effected in Malta since there is no equivalent market in Gozo. It is assumed that at least 25% of all catches are not recorded for various reasons that are beyond the control of the  Fisheries Department. Changes in the fishing regulation system, such as the obligation of minimum catches sold to the Wholesale Fishmarket and the future surveillance of fisheries activities by maritime patrols, should improve the accuracy of the landing data collected in the near future.

Fish bought wholesale are marketed by 250 registered fish vendors on carts or vans, each of whom has a particular zone where to dispose of his/her wares. At present, a number of modern fish shops are sprouting all over the islands. These are all finished up to the latest sanitary standards and guarantee that the public obtain fresh fish in the best possible state. Most of these fish shops are also importing frozen fish from Europe and other neighbouring countries.

Due to the ever-increasing demand for fish from locals and tourists alike, another important outlet for disposing of fish is the catering industry which specialises in the preparation of different fish dishes appealing to different international tastes.

Fish Market Valletta 1910

near pixkerija

Type of fisheries in the Maltese Islands

The most important fisheries in Maltese waters are for bluefin tuna, dolphin fish, swordfish, demersal species and small pelagics. These fisheries are operated on a seasonal basis, according to the particular targeted species’ migratory behaviour or habits (Table 1).

Period Location Fishing Gear Species
January-March offshore bottom longlines dogfish,skaes,rays,groupers,bream
inshore/reefs (rocky shaols) trammel-nets and gill-nets bogue and horse-mackarel
March-July pelagic speices drift-nets frigate mackarel, bronze bream, bonito and small tunas
costal purse-seining bogue,mackarel and horse-mackarel, tuna and swordfish
May-July offshore long-lines tuna and swordfish
August-January offshore ring-net/kannizzati dolphin fish, pilot fish and amberjack

Bluefin tuna (Thunnus tynnus) has been fished by Maltese fishermen for a very long time.  Tuna is targeted by Multi-Purpose Vessels ranging from 10 meters upwards and involves around 150 full-time and part-time fishermen. The gear used is drifting surface long-lines  baited with Atlantic Mackerel and /or Japanese Squid. The maximum number of hooks set in a longline is about 2,500 but this depends mostly on the size of the boat. Fishing is undertaken about 30–50 n miles to the West, South and Southeast of the Island in an area that covers  approximately 5,000 km2. At the beginning of the season in May, the effort is undertaken mainly in the Southwest area of the region and consequently further to the East according to the normal movement of the Bluefin tuna. The season ends in July.

The Dolphin Fish or Dorado (Coryphaena hippurus), known as lampuka in Maltese, is one of the most important species for the economy of the Maltese fishing industry. In fact, up to a few years ago it was actually the most important fishery due to its appeal to the public and the abundance of catches which occur regularly each year. Owing to its traditional appeal all boat owners participate in this seasonal activity and for this reason the Department of Fisheries organizes and manages all activities.

Dolphin Fish are captured using ‘fish aggregating devices’ (FADs). These FADs take the form of small rafts made of floating material, which are then anchored to the bottom. Their use was introduced after it was noticed by local fishers that Dolphin Fish along with other species such as Pilot Fish (Naucrates ductor) and the Amberjack (Seriola dumerili) tend to aggregate within the shadow cast by floats. To further augment the number of fish, palm fronds are attached underneath each float to extend the shaded area. Once the Dolphin Fish aggregate, they are caught by surrounding nets similar to a purse-seine. When the boat is near an FAD various trolls made out of feathers or artificial bait are set and when one fish is caught, a decoy Dolphin Fish is thrown into the sea to attract any others that may be present under the FAD. When the number of fish present makes it worthwhile the surrounding operation is then undertaken.

Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) is targeted throughout the year although in varying degrees and for different reasons. The peak period is from late June to August when boats revert from tuna to swordfish fishing prior to starting operations for Dolphin Fish from September onwards. Only about 10 MPVs are equipped solely with swordfish longlines, the rest adapting their gear according to different seasonal fisheries such as Swordfish, Tuna and Dolphin Fish. During the peak period, 50 to 60 boats may actually target Swordfish and this involves between 200 and 250 fishers. The only gear used for Swordfish is surface drifting long-lines and the number of baited hooks varies according to the boat’s size and range. The larger boats which venture beyond 25 n miles and remain at sea for at least five days may set as many as 2,000 hooks at any time, weather permitting, whilst the smaller craft spend a maximum of three days at sea and set between 500 and 700 hooks per effort. The fishing technique is identical to that used for tuna. The bait is exclusively Atlantic Mackerel and the size of each mackerel varies according to the period when different sizes of Swordfish are anticipated, that is, during the period when juvenile Swordfish are present, the hooks are baited with smaller mackerel.

Demersal fishing is undertaken with different types of gears: gillnets and entangling nets, bottom trawlers, bottom longlines and traps. Different types of bottom gillnets and entangling nets are used in the Maltese Islands. These are (a) trammel nets locally known as ‘parit’ (b) the xkitt which is a compound net; and (c) xkatlar, a single mesh bottom net. They are mainly used during the winter months when the weather does not allow long term fishing on the high seas. This gear is used both day and night depending on the particular species being targeted, for example, demersal species in late evening and night, and pelagic species during the day. The product is sold fresh and is for local consumption. The use of nets has been practised since time immemorial and their importance only started diminishing with the introduction of long-lining,  which permits fishing away from the shore in deeper waters. The main fishing area for demersal species is to the north of the island, in depths of 10–40 m. These activities are undertaken by approximately 150–200 vessels in the smaller category, such as ‘luzzu’, ‘kajjik’ and MPVs which are less than 12 m in length. These boats are usually crewed by one or two fishers.

Bottom longlining targets several species such as Breams (Pagellus spp.), Dentex (Dentex dentex), Wreckfish (Polyprion americanus), Stone Bass (Epinephelus alexandrinus) and Common Sea Bream (Pagrus pagrus).  The gear used is bottom set long-lines. Usually these longlines are set in deep rocky areas near the slope, at depths of 200 m or more. Two different demersal set long-lines are  used in Malta, which target species of different sizes. Vessels are usually larger than 10 m in length and approximately 30 vessels are engaged in this fishery with about 90 fishers.

Traps are used to catch a wide range of demersal species and are constructed in different shapes and sizes according to the species targeted. The material used to construct these traps also varies according to species. For species such as Moray Eel (Muraena helena), Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris) and Spiny Lobster (Palinurus elephas), the material used is wire netting, whilst for Bogue (Boops  boops), Picarel (Spicara spp.) and similar species, the material used is cane cut into fine strips or special reeds which are imported from North Africa. Trap shape varies according to the habits of the targeted species; thus, for bottom hugging species the shape would be rectangular, whilst oval or round shaped traps are used for mid-water species. There are approximately 180-200 vessels using traps, all of the ‘kajjik’  and small ‘luzzu’ types, with lengths under 10 m. The number of fishermen per boat varies from one to two. The product is always consumed locally and sold as fresh fish.

Coastal pelagic fishing in the Maltese Islands has been practised for a very long time and at least since 1930, when ‘lampara’ fishing was first introduced locally. Up to a few years ago, it formed a very important part of the total national fishing effort; during this time landings of Chub Mackerel (Scomber japonicus), Atlantic Mackerel (Scomber scombrus), Horse Mackerel (Trachurus trachurus),  Scad (Trachurus mediterraneus), Bogue (Boops boops), Allice Shad (Alosa alosa), Pilchard (Sardina pilchardus) and Anchovy (Engraulis encrasicholus) were quite high. However, since the 1960s, lampara fishing effort became minimal and subsequent catches are almost insignificant. Sardines and Anchovy in particular were important because they were bought by fishers to use as bait. At present,  Atlantic Mackerel which is used as bait is imported. Additionally, before the advent of large scale targeting of Swordfish and Tuna and the introduction of demersal species such as Hake and Red Mullet on a large scale, the local market use to absorb all the catches, especially Chub Mackerel, which was then, along with Dolphin Fish, one of the most sought-after species.

At present only six purse seiners based in Marsaxlokk (Malta) and Mgarr (Gozo) undertake this fishery, with the main targeted species being the Chub Mackerel, which is still marketable to a certain degree. Anchovy and sardines are quite abundant in Maltese waters and they are fished with ‘lampara’ seines. The boats used for this fishery are in the 10–15 m length category. The purse seine is between 400 to 450 m long and about 105 m high.

Lampara’ fishing takes place all along the North side of the island, but the main zone is around a shallow area covering about 13 km2, known as Hurd Bank.  The depth is between 35 m and 44 m with the intermediate area descending to a maximum of 100 m.  Lampara fishing is undertaken throughout the year except for the period from September to December when these boats target the Dolphin Fish.

Bottom trawling is limited in the Maltese area and there are only fifteen licensed bottom trawlers in Malta, involving about 100 fishers. They operate in areas well within the 25 n mile fishing limit, mainly due to the availability of good trawling grounds quite near to the coast. Trawling is undertaken both during the day and night for purely operational reasons. Owing to the complexity of the local market, trawling is also
seasonal, in the sense that certain species fetch good prices at particular periods of the year. In actual fact, three different types of trawling activities are undertaken during the year:

(a) Deep sea trawling (during the day) in 600 m and below, where king prawns (Aristeomorpha foliacea and Aristeus antennatus) are targeted. When fishing for king prawns there is almost no by-catch, except for small marketable fish such as Forkbeard (Phycis blennoides), Hake (Merluccius merluccius) and Common Sole (Solea vulgaris). King prawns are found at depths of over 500 m throughout the year at all  hours of the day, since sunlight does not penetrate to that depth. The trawling grounds are found in an area about 8 n miles to the northwest of Malta. Since the terrain is mud and free from obstacles, the duration of each trawl is at least 4 hours. Consequently, advantage is taken of the long daylight hours in the summer and at least three trawls a day can be undertaken.

(b) Trawling in depths of between 150m and 200 m (during the day) where the terrain is mainly mud and clay yields shrimps (Parapenaeus longirostris), Hake (Merluccius merluccius), Red Mullet (Mullus surmuletus and Mullus barbatus), Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris), Japanese Squid (Todarodes sagittatus), Cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) and marketable by-catches of Dogfish, Spotted  Dogfish, skates and rays (Raja spp.), Bogue (Boops boops) and Scad (Trachurus mediterraneus). These species are fished very close to land (3-4 n miles) and the activity is mainly carried out in winter, when the weather does not allow fishing in deeper waters.

(c) Trawling at night in depths of between 50m and 150 m on heterogeneous bottoms (such as Hurd Bank), yields Red Mullet (Mullus barbatus), Comber (Serranus spp.), Pandora (Pagellus spp.), squid, cuttlefish and Weaver (Trachinus spp.). This type of trawling is undertaken all along the northern side of the island but the main zone is on and around Hurd Bank where stocks are more abundant. Trawl time can never be  longer than one hour, since the rough terrain would put too much strain on the trawl nets and damage them. This allows for several trawls to be carried out during the night.

In all cases, the nets used are the ‘Mazara’ type otter trawls which are adjusted according to the type of terrain on which operations are being conducted.


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