Fisheries Research Unit

The role of the Fisheries Research Unit (FRU) is to collect and analyse data relevant to Maltese fisheries, and sound information about the state of fisheries resources primarily within the 25 nm Fisheries Management Zone around the Maltese Islands and within GSA 15, and probe the most effective measures to manage them. The FRU also takes part in international meetings, where data is analysed and from which scientific advice towards the regional management of fisheries emanate. In addition, it also participates in various projects which deal with different aspects of data collection, analysis for the provision of scientific advice and marine spatial planning.

The objectives of the Fisheries Research Unit are:

Collecting sound transversal (such as fishing activity, capacity and effort landings), biological and economic data from the fisheries sector, in accordance with international requirements; 
Analysing the collected data in order to study trends and assess sustainability of the fishing practices and trends; 
Provide scientific advice on the way forward and the best possible way to manage the available stocks.

On-going projects in which the FRU actively participates:​

·        Data Collection Multi-Annual Programme: The collection of fisheries data is regulated through the European Union Fisheries DataCollection Multi-Annual Programme (DC-MAP). Malta covers the areas of fishing capacity and effort, catch and landing statistics, biological parameters,  scientific surveys and economics of the fishing fleet, fish processing and aquaculture industries. The programme thus contributes to a better knowledge of the main fishery resources of Malta from the biological, economical, and social points of view. This project is part-financed by the European Union European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) at a co-financing rate of 80% EU Funds and 20% National funds.​

·        MedSudMed: This MedSudMed "Assessment and Monitoring of the Fishery Resources and the Ecosystems in the Straits of Sicily" FAO project was launched at the end of 2001. Four countries participate in this project: Italy, Libya, Malta and Tunisia. The main objectives of MedSudMed are to increase the scientific knowledge on the ecosystems of the project area, to strengthen national and regional expertise, and to develop scientific cooperation in order to promote the standardisation of the methodologies used in fisheries research.

·        CopeMed II: The Coordination to Support Fisheries Management in the Western and Central Mediterranean, CopeMed II​​, is another FAO project. The participating countries are Malta, Algeria, France, Italy, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Spain and Tunisia. The overall objective of CopeMed II is to maintain the sustainability of the marine resources in the central and western sub-regions and its ecosystem, taking into account environmental, biological, economical, social and institutional issues, particularly through the promotion of scientific cooperation among the countries.

·        HARMONY: The aim of HARMONY is to suggest a set of monitoring and control measures between Italy and Malta, two cross-border countries. The project will provide interventions to jointly recognize (i) the integrity of marine seafloor and the inhabiting species and ii) the effects of habitat fragmentation in facilitating the diffusion of Non-Indigenous Species (NIS). By integrating these two aspects, HARMONY will reach a better understanding of marine ecosystem functioning in a cross-border context.  In order to meet the set of mandatory descriptors and indicators suggested by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (Descriptor 2 “Non-indigenous Species” and Descriptor 6 “Sea-floor integrity”), an integrated interventions and measures of monitoring will be developed, with the aim to suggest management plans of Natura 2000 sites and habitats. This is requested to avoid future conflicts, reduce the risk of ecosystem loss and prevent the impoverishment of goods and services. 

·        LIFE PanPuffinus: This project aims to improve the conservation status of two endangered Puffinus species across the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic coast of Portugal by tackling two major threats on land and at sea through transboundary conservation efforts. By exchanging experiences between countries working on the conservation of these pelagic seabirds, our partnership will lead to the development of improved monitoring and data collection, strengthened stakeholder collaboration, increased efficiency of conservation efforts and better assessment of threats in order to minimize their impact. The project actions will also contribute to the implementation of International Species Action Plans for both species.

·        Project Xibka: This is a project by eNGO Żibel. The aim of Project Xibka is to implement a concerted effort of waste cllection and disposal, targeted specifically at derelict fishing gears (DFG), around the coast of the Maltese Islands. The chosen sites will be ground turthed using ROV and divers, once the DFG is colloected they will be cleaned and stored. The DFG collected depending on the nature and state of the material will be disposed as follows;

·        Fishing gear that is salvageable will be given back to the fishing commuinty, to be mended and reused.

·        Material in a good state will be given to local artisians to create new products, thereby giving a second life to materials. Artisans will be selected on the basis that new crafts made can be recycled again.

·        DFGs that can not be recycled through the above two streams will be givin to NoFir®, an entity which recycles this material into eco-nylon.

·        Any remaining materials will be appropriately landfilled should there be absolutely no other use for them.

·        Fishers will have the opportunity to report missing fishing gear for this to be retrieved in real-time, a means by which ghost fishing is proactively mitigated

Photos and videos collected throughout will be shared on various channels in order to increase awarness about the impacts of DFG and waste in our seas.​

Past projects:


·        Data Collection Framework: Under the European Union Data Collection Framework (DCF), the Member States collected, managed and made available a wide range of fisheries data needed for scientific advice. This framework was reformed in 2017 by the current Data Collection Multi-Annual Programme. 

·        A Scientific Study to Improve Trawl Gear Selectivity: This project includes a desktop study, marine surveys and analysis of so as to improve the gear selectivity of the 40mm square mesh size currently in use by the Maltese otter board trawling fleet so as to reduce discards of Merluccius merluccius (European hake) and Parapenaeus longirostris (deep-water rose shrimp). Two methods to improve the gear selectivity for each of these two species will be tested. 

·        MANTIS:  The MANTIS project, ‘Marine protected Areas Network Towards Sustainable fisheries in the Central Mediterranean’ falls under the MARE/2014/41 Tender. The main aims are:

1.      To review and integrate the knowledge produced in previous national and EU funded projects on space time dynamics of exploited living resources and on Ecosystem Approach to Fishery in the Central Mediterranean; and 

2.      To investigate how a network of MMAs (Marine Managed Areas) can contribute to improve sustainable fisheries in the Central Mediterranean including the Strait of Sicily and the Adriatic Sea, whilst promoting ecosystem services such as reservoirs of biodiversity and functioning food webs.

​The objectives will be developed in two case studies: the Northern Sector of the Strait of Sicily (GSA 15, 16) and the Central-Northern Adriatic (GSA17). Other adjacent areas will be considered when appropriate. This project started in January 2016 and has a duration of 36 months. This project is part-financed by the European Union European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) at a co-financing rate of 75% EU Funds and 25% National funds.

·        LIFE BaĦAR for N2K: LIFE BaĦAR for N2K aims to extend existing marine Sites of Community Importance (SCIs) and identify new SCIs for inclusion within the Natura 2000 network. This project will gather existing and new data on the location, range and conservation status of Annex I marine habitats as listed in the Habitats Directive, primarily sandbanks which are slightly covered by sea water all the time, reefs and submerged or partially submerged sea caves.

·        GAP2: The pan-European GAP2  project focused on collaborative research – encouraging fishers, scientists and policy-makers to carry out scientific research together, and using this research to help inform and shape policy. The aim of the project was to facilitate meaningful engagement with stakeholders, so that solutions could be developed for sustainable fisheries and fishing communities. The Maltese case study focused on better management of the trawler fisheries fleet within Malta’s 25 nm Fisheries Management Zone.

·        MESMA: MESMA, an FP-7 project, dealt with the monitoring and evaluation of spatially managed marine areas. MESMA provided guidance and tools to support the implementation of marine spatial planning in Europe’s seas. These included advice, tools and information on human uses, biotope classification / distributions, governance processes and different approaches to conflict management. It also provided a firm basis for the further design and implementation of Marine Spatial Planning policies especially the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

·        CREAM: The aim of the CREAM project, Coordinating Research in support to application of Ecosystem Approach to fisheries and Management advice in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, was the establishment of an effective collaboration network among key role players in Mediterranean and Black Sea fisheries research and management. The participants in the project included national research institutes from Mediterranean and Black Sea countries with a long history and active participation in fisheries research and assessment, who provide advice to national, regional and international fisheries management organisations.

·        MAREA: The aim of the MAREA (Mediterranean hAlieutic Resources Evaluation and Advice) consortium was to provide scientific advice and/or other specific preliminary services according to the following terms of reference: (i) Assessment of the state of aquatic living resources and advise on fisheries management scenarios; (ii) Ecosystems knowledge and its integration into fisheries management; (iii) Monitoring of specific fisheries and fishing gears not included or insufficiently covered in the data collection framework or for which such a work has not yet been done or is not going to be done on the short-term or on a regular basis; and (iv) Effects of pollutants and of other human activities at sea on aquatic leaving resources and fisheries. The project included the collation of existing scientific and bibliographic information, the collection of new scientific and technical information, including, where appropriate by carrying out surveys or trials at sea and in the ports, the carrying out of scientific evaluations and modelling, the analysis of data quality, and identification of and access to independent expertise and studies.

·        Strengthening regional cooperation in the area of fisheries data collection in the Mediterranean and Black Sea: This project falls under the MARE/2014/19 Tender and the overall aim was to lay out a regional work programme outlining the planned activities and the corresponding timeframe and costs, including costs/benefits, in relation to the current implementation at Member State level. This regional work programme, defined as Multiannual Regional Work Programme, will include a ‘Regional Sampling Programme for 2016 covering Commercial Fisheries, a Regional Sampling Programme for 2016 covering the Data Collection on Fisheries Impacts on the Ecosystem and Procedures to Quality Assessment of Biological Data at regional level.  

FRU benefits from such projects through training courses attended by FRU staff, contacts with experts and working relationships, and a range of tools and techniques which can be used for fisheries management.

Other commitments 


In addition to EU obligations, Malta also collects fisheries data in accordance with the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas recommendations and the requirements of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM)​. Data collected for the purposes of ICCAT includes data on catches of blue fin tuna, swordfish and other large pelagic species, in particular, data on landings, tuna harvesting, and age data. Data collected by GFCM members encompass area-based information on national fleets and their activities, socio-economic data, catch and effort and biological information on main species, including discards and incidental catch of vulnerable species. 

A Global Review on the Biology of the Dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus) and Its Fishery in the Mediterranean Sea: Advances in the Last Two Decades

An interesting study on the biology of the Dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus) was conducted by the Department’s officer Ms Miriam Gambin as one of the co-authors of the above study together with other officers of the DFA that provided fishery data and/or their valuable contribution to the scientific discussions held during related meetings which also made this study possible.  The abstract of this study is being reproduced hereunder however the article can be reviewed here​.


The common dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus) is an epipelagic thermophilic species with a worldwide distribution in tropical and subtropical regions that is characterized by its migratory behaviour and fast growth rates. This species is targeted by artisanal small-scale and recreational fisheries in most regions where it is found. This paper updates and analyzes the global scientific knowledge on the biology and ecology of this species, which was last revised at a regional level 20 years ago. This review showed an increase in knowledge about the population structure and regional differences in biological traits, in parallel with a notable lack of mechanistic and even empirical knowledge about the ecology of this species, which hampers a good understanding of the population dynamics and the potential impacts of environmental change. This paper also updates the information about the Mediterranean dolphinfish fishery, where the main four countries that exploit this species deploy 30% of fish aggregation devices (FAD) worldwide. The results suggest, among other effects, some temporal synchronicity in landings across countries, potential interannual stock movement affecting inter-country catches, diverging trends in prices and insufficient quality in the estimates of fishing effort. The authors propose a suite of specific measures to ameliorate this lack of knowledge and to better manage this complex living resource.