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Composition of the Maltese seafood sector
Maltese fishing companies earned EUR 12 million in landings income in the 2015 (Table 56). Fish processing companies earned EUR 30 million in production revenue in 2012, the most recent available official figures.
Malta maintained a positive trade balance of EUR 38 million in fish products in 2016. Fish exports of EUR 38 million in 2016, accounted for 1.6% of Malta’s GDP. Only 7% of its fish exports were to other EU countries. By far the largest export destination for Maltese fish products was Japan, accounting for 80% of fish exports. This was followed by South Korea (12%) and Italy (5%).
In 2016, Malta imported EUR 121 million in fish products. 66% of these imports came from EU countries. Malta’s main import partners were Italy (30%), the Netherlands (14%) and France (12%).
There were 1,039 registered commercial fishing vessels in Malta in 2015. These were owned by 1,004 enterprises. 300 enterprises – or 30% of all fishing companies – owned more than one vessel. In 2017, 79 vessels ceased their fishing activities, and a quarter of the registered vessels were inactive (STECF 2018). The Maltese fish catching segment employed 872 FTE.
The most recent processing segment data refers to 2012. In that year, there were only 30 FTE employed in the fish processing segment. This indicates that there is only minimal fish processing in Malta. A large part of the landed fish is likely sold fresh in the harbour or at markets.
There are no producer organisations in Malta. Two fishing cooperatives are the Għaqda Koperattiva tas-Sajd and the Koperattiva Nazzjonali tas-Sajd.
Most of the fishing companies in Malta are small scale, traditional father and son businesses. According to Senior Fishery Officer at United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation Matthew Camilleri 90% of the vessels in Malta are under 12 metres. There are about 16 trawlers from which only a few can operate in the 25-mile zone around Malta. If companies have expanded by buying other vessels, it is likely that they bought family-owned longliners or trawlers and not smaller fishing boats. It is not possible to purchase, for example, ten smaller vessels and exchange these for one bigger vessel (Camilleri, 2018). Fishermen often have a fishing boat and a support vessel. There are bigger vessels too, that belong to fish farms (Anonymous B, 2018).
There are also companies on Malta that have given up on fishing, but that operate their vessels to support fish farms (Camilleri, 2018). The tuna fish farming industry in Malta is the largest in the world (Times of Malta, 2018). The fish that are fattened in the farms come from Spanish, French and Italian fishers as the quota in Malta is too small. These companies that are supporting the aquaculture industry are not catching the fish but are involved in putting them in cages and transportation (Camilleri, 2018).
According to Andreina Fenech Farrugia, the bigger companies in Malta do not fish themselves, but they buy fish from the small-scale fishermen or they import it (Farrugia, 2018). 93% of the fisheries segment is small-scale (STECF 2018).
For these small-scale fisheries in Malta it is not easy to survive, as they “are experiencing an ever-challenging struggle to survive as time goes by, fighting the backlash of the industrial boom on the part of large-scale fisheries.” (The Malta Independent, 2018).
Another issue that makes it hard for fishers to keep their business going is the fact that young people are not interested in this kind of work. They consider it hard work for little pay. The prices of fish have dropped a lot for some species, for example for mackerel. It was estimated that a kilogramme of mackerel was sold for EUR 15 about thirty years ago, while nowadays it would be sold for only 50 cents. This happens for two reasons: firstly, consumers prefer processed fish, and secondly a lot of the fish that is caught is sold to fish farmers, who grow the fish in hatcheries, and who set the price (Maltese fisheries expert 1, 2018).
Fishermen in Malta are experiencing a hard time due to EU regulations as well. Some find that the EU does not listen to them and that there is no attention for the different kinds of needs of different fishers (Maltese fisheries expert 1, 2018).
Catches are registered upon landing and there are routine checks. After this check, some of the fish is sold for example to restaurants, but the biggest part goes to fish farms for further growing. This happens with mackerel, sardines, anchovies (Maltese fisheries expert 1, 2018).
Dorado, swordfish and tuna are usually sold through the fish market (Maltese fisheries expert 1, 2018).
Azzopardi Fishing is, according to its own website, the largest seafood business in Malta (Azzopardi n.d.a). Azzopardi Fishing started off around 30 years ago with selling fish only, but that has since become Malta’s largest seafood business, including activities in marine fishing. According to Matthew Camilleri, Azzopardi Fishing represents about 50% of the fishing sector in Malta (Camilleri, 2018).
Azzopardi Fishing is part of the Azzopardi Group, that has several other companies. “Today, the Azzopardi Group, through family holdings, has evolved to become one of the leading players in the FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods), Aquaculture, Retail, Tourism and Property Development” (Azzopardi n.d.a).
Azzopardi Fishing itself has established a subsidiary fishing company called Hannibal Fishing (Azzopardi n.d.b).
A large company like Azzopardi shows that there is integration in the fishery sector in Malta. This specific company has integrated vertically, downwards in the value chain, as they started off with processing fish and later started fishing too. However, according to Andreina Fenech Farrugia, Director General of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Malta, this is not common practice in Malta, where 90% of the fishing is done by small scale fishers. In fact, Azzopardi may be the only clear example of vertical integration in Malta (Farrugia, 2018).
Horizontal integration is also very limited in Malta. Fishers sell and buy quotas to and from each other. Bigger fish catching companies buy quotas from the small-scale fishers (Anonymous B, 2018).