Fighting sea slime: proactive solutions for cleaner seas

Last month a new and innovative pilot project was launched in Malta’s bluefin tuna farms. The aim of this initiative is to use a new type of feed, which will help reduce waste and slime around the farms, without compromising the quality of the tuna product. The first results are indeed promising, but the final results will only be confirmed after examining the fish harvested at the end of the breeding season later this year.

At the beginning of this week I visited one of these tuna farms where this pilot project is underway. I closely followed the work of local and international research companies in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Currently, the main source of feed on tuna farms is smaller bait fish. While it has numerous advantages, the main drawback of this type of feed is the slime released in the feeding process, as well as its effect on the surrounding marine environment, along with several logistical issues.

This new initiative uses specially manufactured feed made from sustainable and renewable ingredients, making it available all year round without compromising cost efficiency or output and reducing residual waste from the whole process.

Previous trials in countries such as Mexico, Panama and Spain have led to important developments in the field, and I predict that this pilot project in Malta will have similar results.

Thanks to this new food, we hope to move away from simply having slime in our waters, to completely eradicating it. This feed is estimated to be at least three times more cost-effective than the baitfish currently in use, providing greater logistical and financial flexibility for private operators, thus improving economic efficiency and environmental quality. The quality of this manufactured feed will also help operators meet the specific needs of tuna, both in terms of vitamin and nutrient absorption and fat content.

There are also other initiatives underway in this sector, with a tuna by-products factory set to operate in the last quarter of this year, converting tuna by-products into fishmeal and fish oil. The companies are also looking for more efficient ways to thaw their baitfish so that they retain higher quality and release less oil when fed to the tuna.

The government is fully committed to ensuring cleaner seas for all of us and will continue to work hand in hand with all stakeholders. For this reason, in recent years the government has focused on overseeing these fish farms and on ways to improve the surrounding marine environment. The government will continue to pursue its goals of developing sustainable aquaculture while preserving the marine ecology in our waters for generations to come.

All the above initiatives are being taken to pursue a common goal, with more eco-friendly aquaculture projects in the pipeline. The latest economic surveys have shown how the total production of the aquaculture and tuna farming industry, despite the effects of the Covid-19, grew by 2.4 million euros to a total of 178.7 million euros compared to the previous year. Current indications within the industry predict further growth in the coming years. Aside from the obvious economic impact, it is impossible to underestimate how important this sector is for a sustainable food supply.

We all remember a small number of incidents reported in the local media where some of the slime from these fish farms escaped and drifted to our boats and shores. We very much note how the number of similar incidents has decreased dramatically in recent years, the result of the numerous investments made by the government and the private sector.

Moreover, over the years, this sector has demonstrated the critical need for continuous scientific research and strengthening of public-private partnerships, for the benefit of the economy and the environment in which we live. The government will strive to strengthen these partnerships, with future initiatives planned so that these developments can bear fruit and leave the desired positive effects on our community and on the country as a whole.

Alicia Bugeja Said is the Secretary of State for Fisheries, Aquaculture

and animal welfare

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