The National Aquaculture Centre (NAC) was set up at Fort San Lucjan in 1988 by the Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries. The primary aim was to pioneer the development of fish farming as a new industrial activity in Malta. In 1992 a pilot marine hatchery was established for the production of sea bass and sea bream. After a slump in sea bass and bream production in the late 90’s, the centre covered research work on both fisheries and aquaculture and was renamed as the Malta Centre for Fisheries Sciences in 2001. Research on the amberjack started in 2006, when the hatchery technology was improved and the rearing of sea bream and amberjacks started. Since then, the hatchery has developed substantially and research is now carried out on the amberjack, blue-fin tuna, sea bream and sea bass with other species such as the grouper and meagre in the pipeline.
Today the Centre has once again become an aquaculture centre, named the Malta Aquaculture Research Centre (MARC) - the only research facility on Malta for hatching marine species for mariculture. Many improvements have been made in the marine hatchery to accommodate amberjack and bluefin tuna larvae. The main stream of research focuses on the diversification of species to be produced for mariculture, with success obtained on a national level with the Amberjack Project and on an EU level with the SELFDOTT project.
MARC also houses the Turtle Rehabilitation Unit that falls under the same Ministry.
History of Fort San Lucjan
Fort San Lucjan
The MARC is housed within Fort San Lucjan, built by order of Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt between 1610 and 1611, possibly on the design of Victor Cassar or Girgor Xerri. Fort San Lucjan was originally armed with six strong bronze cannons; it was surrounded by a dry ditch and had a drawbridge. Grand Master Wignacourt was baptised in a church dedicated to San Lucjan in France, and therefore dedicated the fort to his patron saint. In fact, the fort also had a small chapel dedicated to San Lucjan which included the painting of the saint, now believed to be at the Tarxien Parish Church in Tarxien, Malta.
The fort was enlarged and strengthened by Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan and named Fort Rohan in 1796. During the invasion of Malta by the French in 1798, Fort San Lucjan was one of the few forts to offer resistance to the forces of Napoleon when it continued to fire on the French troops until the ammunition had run out. In 1876 under the governorship of Van Stranbenzee, the fort was modernised and fitted with strong iron coastal muzzle-loading guns on the newly constructed outer defenses.
Between the late forties and early sixties, Fort San Lucjan was used by the Royal Air Force as a bomb depot. It also served as a military prison in certain periods. The wooden drawbridge was replaced by a fixed bridge and rail tracks were fitted across it and leading into the fort, enabling bombs to be carried inside the fort with the least possible inconvenience. In 1964 the fort was handed over to the Maltese government and soon after began to be administered by the University, first under the auspices of the Architecture Department and later as a Marine Biology Station, until 1988 when it was allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in order to accommodate the newly set up National Aquaculture Centre.
- Research and development into breeding “new species” for aquaculture.
- Optimising techniques for the production of marine fish.
- Nutrition and growth trials for marine fish.
- Fish vaccination testing.
- Partner in turtle rehabilitation and release.
- Laboratory water quality monitoring.
- Provide information on aquaculture to students, the general public and prospective entrepreneurs.
Achievements, current projects and objectives
The Centre started with the hatching and on-growing of tilapia. In 1992 the NAC created its own marine hatchery to serve as a pilot project for commercial scale marine hatcheries. In 1993, 300,000 2g gilthead sea bream fingerlings were produced and the original targeted production of 400,000 fingerlings was reached in 1994. More investments and improved hatchery technology resulted in an average of 1 million fingerlings produced annually between 1995 and 1997. Apart from tilapia and sea bream, sea bass broodstock were reared and trials on the culture of dolphin fish, amberjack, eel and turbot were carried out.
The centre fulfilled its purpose and through the production of sea bass and sea bream, the annual aquaculture production increased dramatically during the 1990's from 60 tonnes in 1991 to a peak of 1800 tonnes in 1998 through the operation of 6 commercial farms. This consisted of 1200 tonnes of sea bream and 600 tonnes of sea bass. Today the production of these two species is stable around 1,500 tons. In the year 2000, Maltese farmers started fattening blue-fin tuna for export. Today the Maltese industry has grown considerably and generated over 120 million Euros in 2007.
The Amberjack Project is a five-year joint venture between the Centre and Malta Fishfarming Ltd. It started in 2006, one year after the first amberjack eggs were obtained from broodstock reared in cages. Various advances have been made during the past 3 years and spawning and egg collection have become an annual certainty. Larval survival still needs improvements and a maximum of 14,000 fingerlings were produced in 2010. The management and staff have the ambitious aim to produce a better survival and larger numbers before the five-year term comes to an end.
Malta is a partner in the 7th Framework EU project known as SELF-DOTT (SELF sustaining aquaculture – Domestication of Thunnus thynnus). This project involves 13 partners from a total of 8 countries: France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Malta, Norway and Spain.
Over the three years of this project that started in 2008, the different institutes and companies from these countries will contribute towards a better understanding of the biology of blue-fin tuna within realistic and achievable objectives. The whole project is organized into 3 main work packages, namely reproduction, larval rearing and nutrition. The scientific consortium has already reached one of its main objectives; successfully producing fertilized eggs and viable larvae. The larval rearing groups aim to produce a number of fingerlings for further rearing.
During 2009, the second year of this project, over 200 million good fertilized eggs have been collected from the broodstock of Spain and Italy, showing that the techniques for broodstock management and egg collection have been successful.
This is a very big step forward after the success in the previous 5th Framework project (REPRO-DOTT - Reproduction of Blue-fin tuna), where viable eggs were obtained and artificially inseminated, thus proving that Blue-fin tuna can mature and produce viable eggs and sperm in captivity.
Malta is responsible for holding broodstock for egg collection, egg transportation trials, a broodstock nutrition experiment and sampling blue-fin tuna from the wild. It is also involved in egg transportation to other countries and larval rearing
Recently meagre eggs were imported from Italy for hatching and juvenile production. Juveniles produced will be reared to adults and utilised as broodstock so we can produce a closed cycle of meagre in the near future.
Some groupers are being reared within the broodstock facilities inside Fort San Lucjan. These will be grown to broodstock for egg production, that will be
Sea bream and sea bass
Various experiments are carried out with sea bass and sea bream. The main aim of producing sea bass and sea bream is to carry out trials on enrichment products and feeds, while training and improving staff. The hatchery at MARC is capable of producing viable eggs of these species.
The Malta Aquaculture Research Centre carries out vaccine safety tests for a UK based company.
Turtle Rehabilitation Unit
A number of injured turtles are brought to MARC by fishermen. These turtles are housed at the Centre within the Turtle Rehabilitation Unit, where they are cured. After receiving the necessary treatment, and having undergone rehabilitation, the centre in conjunction with the Nature Protection Unit of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, release the turtles back to their natural environment from a sandy beach. The released turtles are tagged so that useful information on their growth and migration patterns could be obtained in the event of recapture.
Education Area and Aquaria
Permanent Exhibition and School visits
The Malta Aquaculture Research Centre uses its collection of live marine organisms on display in a number of aquaria and ponds to increase the appreciation towards marine life in the Mediterranean. School children and adults visiting the exhibition are made aware of many aspects of fish behavior and marine life conservation.
The section directs its effort mainly on the topics related to fisheries and aquaculture which are needed by pupils attending Years 4 and 5 in primary schools. Biology and university students, also visit the centre in order to seek advice and assistance for their projects.