The Fish Market is the one place in Malta you are almost guaranteed to encounter elasmobranch, unfortunately. All fish caught have to be sold through the main market in Marsa and this includes all elasmobranch as well as Tuna, Swordfish, Eels, Mackerel and many, many other species which have a commercial value.
Why research at the Market?
This is the one place where you can validate species being brought in from the fishermen, and sold on, to be consumed within the Islands. Malta has a long history of eating many different species of elasmobranch and although you won’t find “Shark Steaks” in the local restaurants, you will find many species on sale on the fish vans almost daily. The consumption of shark, skate and rays in Malta is common place, especially with the older generations, and using their purchases they make a wide variety of different dishes.
What happens after the sale is not what we are interested in with our research at the market.
So what research are we doing?
There are many reasons for gathering data from the Fish Market, but the most important aspects of research at the moment can be split into two categories;
1. Identification and counting of species on sale.
2. Identification and data collection to assist population management of “Mazzola” species in collaboration with the Malta Centre for Fisheries Science.
The 1st category is a simple case of accurately logging all species and quantities of sharks, skates, rays and chimaera being brought to the market for sale. Gathering this data helps to validate the presence of these species within Maltese waters and the immediate surrounding Mediterranean. It also allows the opportunity to study in more detail, a physical sample of some of the species we know inhabit or travel through Maltese waters. We can take the opportunity to gather information on the types of fishing equipment used and the areas that certain species are being caught.
This area of research, also allows us to assist in the control of protected species, as we are extra eyes at the market. Any protected species seen on sale can be reported to the Maltese Fisheries Protection Officers, who are present at the market, and are in a position to respond to the problem. Sellers who are trying to sell protected species can be dealt with in many different ways, which include the species on sale being confiscated, fines imposed or even licences revoked.
The 2nd Category is critical to the better management and protection of some specific species of elasmobranch within Maltese waters. This research is hands-on sampling of boxes of sharks to determine an exact log of species, length and sex. The species being studied in this area of the research are as follows:
- Piked Dogfish – Squalus acanthias – Mazzola griza
- Longnose Spurdog – Squalus blainvillei – Mazzola tax-xewka
- Velvet Belly Shark – Etmopterus spinax – Mazzola tal-fanal
- Starry Smoothhound – Mustelus asterias – Mazzola tat-tbajja
- Smoothhound – Mustelus mustelus – Mazzola bla xewka
- Blackspotted Smoothhound – Mustelus punctulatus – Mazzola tat-tikek suwed
- Tope/School Shark – Galeorhinus galeus – Mazzola
This research, in collaboration with the MCFS, is being done because of the problem that historically, all of these individual species have always been simply referred to as “Mazzola” or categorised as dogfish. This has led to a problem that until our research started, nobody really knew which species, and how many, were being brought to the market and sold. So if nobody knew which species and how many were being caught and sold, how could anybody manage the species? The simple answer is, it is impossible. That is why, this is really important research and because of the lack of any data, this is a long term project. It is envisaged that to get enough data to make significant improvements to the management of any of the species listed above, could take 5 years or more.
Sharklab (Malta) is dedicated to making sure this research work is carried out until the species’ populations are understood, so that, if needed, protective measures can be implemented to ensure the survival of these important species.
Additional Market Research
As well as the research being carried out at the main market at Valletta, we also visit the Marsaxxlokk market to see what is being sold. This market is very popular with tourists and often fish on sale are direct from local fishermen, as well as fish purchased through Valletta. During visits we have on occasions found that some species of Sharks are, in fact, sold under a misleading name. For example Blue Shark or Ħuta Kaħla (Maltese) has been seen several times on sale as Aċċola (Maltese) which in fact is Amberjack. This is not only illegal, but also simply confuses the buyer as to what it is they are purchasing.
Hopefully, in time our awareness campaigns and education programs will highlight these problems and changes will be made.
If you want to get involved with the research work being carried out at the market in Valletta or would like to visit Marsaxxlokk market to gather important information, then please join us and get involved. Be part of making a difference here in the Mediterranean and more specifically in the Maltese Islands.