The project was launched by Nature Trust Malta (NTM) and the Malta Aquaculture Research Centre (MARC) within the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, reported Gozo News.com.
The project is supported by the Bank of Valletta, the Ministry for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change and the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.
The project was unveiled during a press conference hosted at San Lucjan Tower and addressed by Vincent Attard, Executive President of NTM, Ray Caruana from MARC and Mr Mario Mallia, Chief Operations Officer at Bank of Valletta. The project was launched in the presence of Roderick Galdes, Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights.
The killifish, known as buzaqq in Maltese or by its scientific name Aphanius fasciatus is a small fish endemic to the Mediterranean. It is found mainly along the Central to the Eastern coastlines of the Mediterranean Sea and around islands like as Sicily, Corsica and Malta.
“Genetic tests have shown that every population is different, making the local Maltese population unique. In Malta, however, this fish is endangered and in urgent need of proper management by competent institutions to prevent the degradation of its habitat that is negatively affecting the species,” explained Vincent Attard.
“The primary objectives of this project are to raise awareness and educate the public about the importance of preserving the species and its habit.”
This project includes captive-breeding programs and securing a viable population in captivity as well as the effective and sustainable management of the Natura 2000 site at il-Maghluq in Marsaskala.
In his presentation, Mr Caruana explained how up to a few years ago, the killifish was found in both Il-Maghluq, Marsaskala and Il-Ballut, Marsaxlokk. However, anthropogenic activity led to heavy decline in the stocks at both sites, with the population at Il-Maghluq being wiped out completely.
A small population from Il-Ballut was taken to Il-Maghluq by NTM volunteers during the 1990s to restart the population there. They succeeded but in the meantime conditions at Il-Ballut did not improve and the Marsaxlokk population faced extinction.
Today, the habitat of Il-Maghluq is rather poor with many negative pressures including dumping and severe pollution which has led to the decline in numbers of the killifish in this area too.
Mr Mario Mallia expressed his satisfaction at the Bank’s participation in this collaborative venture. “The project we are inaugurating today has an important contribution to make, not only to our maritime heritage, but also to our very identity.”
He thanked the organisers and the researchers for their invaluable work in tracing the origins of the killifish and their efforts in ensuring the survival of this species.
He also explained that, “education plays a critical role in this project. The Centre, which will be open to school children, will enable them to observe and appreciate our heritage as islanders and as Maltese, in a way that no textbook can.”
Meanwhile, NTM is lobbying to get this fish recognised as Malta’s national fish. “This status would increase awareness about this endemic fish, and help ensure the proper conservation of this species.
"A successful breeding programme, coupled with the willpower and proper management of both Il-Ballut and Il-Maghluq can result in the reintroduction of such species in both sites and will serve to increase the population numbers of the killifish and allow the species to thrive once more.”