A fish story

A fish story ▪️ Art is life ▪️ Liam's campaign ▪️ Giving

As the world population grows, so does the demand for affordable, high-protein food.

Currently, the global population is around 8.5 billion and is predicted to increase to 11 billion by 2100.  Meeting the food demands of this population undoubtedly presents a challenge to food production.  Food insecurity is the third-largest global emergency we face today.  The NGO Action against Hunger estimates that some three billion people are either moderately or severely food-insecure, an increase of almost 320 million from the previous year.

Put simply, higher agriculture and fishing production are imperative if we want to feed the world.  Fish play an outsized nutritional role for many people: 3.1 billion people rely on fish for 20% of their daily protein intake, with some coastal communities reliant on fish for upwards of 70%.  Fisheries and aquaculture provide food for billions of people around the world and play an important role in the local economy of coastal communities in many countries.

But marine and aquatic ecosystems are under stress – from climate change, overfishing and other unsustainable fishing practices, and pollution from various other human activities.  According to the OECD Review of Fisheries 2022, though 64% of fish stocks are in good health, 18% fall below sustainability standards and assessment of the other 18% is not conclusive.  This is not an optimal situation, though a good thing about the stocks in good health is that they meet higher management standards for optimising productivity (i.e. they are abundant enough to allow the maximising of catch volume or value). 

Aquaculture (or fish farming), which has been around for thousands of years, has expanded hugely in the past 30 years.  It’s the fastest growing sector in food, averaging around 6% growth a year, and it now accounts for 50% of the seafood we eat. Malta is doing its bit towards the global demand.

According to statistics released by the NSO recently, the total output of farmed fish produced by the aquaculture and tuna farming industry in Malta during 2022 amounted to €319.4 million – an increase of 40.7% over the previous year. In terms of weight, the total sales of farmed fish increased by 1.6 million kilos or 10.0% over that achieved in 2021. Bluefin tuna farming accounts for 80% of total aquaculture production revenue.  This led the industry’s gross value added to marginally increase by 1.7% to €81.0 million. 

One challenge facing the industry in Malta concerns what to feed the tuna.  Currently they are fed on baitfish caught from the wild. This is probably not sustainable in the long run. So, as an alternative, the industry is looking into replacing them with manufactured fish feed or by partly plant protein-based sources.  One advantage of this is that environmental degradation, specifically slime, will decline.  Other pluses are that manufactured feeds have a much more efficient food conversion ratio, cost less to ship in, and have a lower water content thus reducing the storage space required.

Industry experts tell me that more needs to be done to safeguard the principle of sustainability in accordance with EU benchmarks.  This includes continuous reviews of the workings of the industry, more harmonisation of the law, better inspection and surveillance protocols, and higher investment and R&D to vary fish varieties and increase production sustainably.

Art is life

Art is a multi-faceted phenomenon, a medium to reflect our deepest emotions and the world around us.  It evokes feelings, from joy to sorrow, from serenity to anger, creating a bond of understanding between diverse groups of people and societies.  By transcending languages and cultures, art acts as an invaluable aid in promoting peace and unity.

Many people do not realise that art is not just the expression of emotion but also a medium for communicating ideas.  It is not just a conduit for self-expression, but it also acts as a therapeutic relief to those who create it and those who appreciate life’s beauty. Another facet of art is that it helps humans chronicle history, highlight societal values, and commentate political or social events.

The cultural and art scene in Malta has become really lively.  National Statistics Office has put the number of persons working in the creative and cultural sectors this year at 7,200 – that’s double the number a decade ago.  Arts Minister Owen Bonnici hailed this unprecedented growth in careers and added that an upward trend of around 13% seems to be on the cards.

This hasn’t happened by coincidence.  It is the result of investments and initiatives aimed at incentivising growth, sustained by substantial Government help.  Next year’s Budget will allocate an additional €20 million in assistance and the spend will be €81 million higher than it was in 2012.  In addition, this year artists will benefit from a reduced tax rate of 7.5% on their income.  A considerable portion of the additional funds will go towards band clubs and volunteer groups involved in feasts, restoration of fortifications, and preservation of the country’s historical heritage, various public cultural entities that make up the cultural ecosystem, and the holding of the first-ever Malta Biennale.

Where would we be without art?  Our emotional well-being would suffer irretrievably without art because art serves as a form of therapy and healing for many individuals. Without art people would struggle to find solace and comfort when faced with life’s difficulties.  Take the controversy about building in Malta.  It is often not that we don’t like the colour of concrete, but that the buildings using the material seem soulless; they fail to communicate feelings through their form, colour, composition, and dynamism.    Many times, they fail to fit in within the context of the area.

On a visit to Paris some years ago I wanted to find a building which could match the Versailles in architectural value.  A French friend of mine told me to go to the Fondation Louis Vuitton, designed by that most lyrical of all architects, Frank Gehry.  Gehry’s vessel-shaped glass structure sits among the trees and lawns of Paris’s Bois de Boulogne. The building is filled with LVMH’s astounding art collection, with works ranging from Kusama and Abramovic to Matisse and Giacometti.

For his inspiration, Gehry looked back to several great designs of the 19th century. He particularly liked the glass greenhouse buildings in French and British gardens. He soon convinced himself that glass would be the best way to add a structure to the beautiful garden at the Bois.  He designed a glass exterior which encloses the museum within it. The play between solid and glass works to perfection within the verdant atmosphere of the Bois.  Both whimsical and sturdy, the structure is much like the meandering paths and endless row of trees that surround it.

But Art is not just a sensory experience.  It is also an industry. It creates thousands of jobs. Without it, there would be no musicians, comedians, writers, actors, dancers, painters, designers, hair stylists, jewellery makers, architects, makeup artists, chefs, graphic designers, or fashion designers. Why would we travel anywhere if the food, music, and architecture were the same?  

If there was anybody who knew a thing or two about art it was Pablo Picasso.  He once said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Liam’s campaign

Liam Stafrace, a 22-year-old Msida resident who is partially blind, was in the news recently when he highlighted the challenges faced by visually-impaired persons in their daily lives as they dodge garbage bags, badly parked scooters, broken pavements and other obstacles when walking.  Talking to the Times of Malta, he exclaimed that he finds it scary to cross roads (who doesn’t?)  and also complained that “there are some traffic lights that make very little sound, some make no sound at all, so it is difficult to know when it is safe to cross.”

Photo: Karl Andrew Micallef/Times of Malta

The NGO Visual and Non-Visual Network, run by ex-minister Noel Farrugia and by a small group of engaged volunteers, has come up with a series of signs that should help make life easier for people like Liam.  The plans have been presented to the Planning Authority, the Transport Ministry, and the Office of the Prime Minister.

Stafrace puts most of us to shame.  Though he started to use a cane at the age of 16, he has not allowed his disability to hinder him from doing the things he loves.  In fact, he practises athletics, gymnastics, and even football, which he plays weekly with the Special Olympics team. One of the projects that Stafrace is currently working on is providing tandem cycling lessons at schools, with a pilot project starting at a school in Rabat.

Stafrace is one of 1,854 people with a visual impairment registered with the Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  There is a serious need for more initiatives like road signs if we really believe in a more inclusive society.  As the young man said, “In society, we do not include others when needed, but we should always include them. That is how society can move forward.”

By the way, the NGO runs a helpline (9999 4242), while anybody wanting to make a donation to the NGO can do so on https://www.visualnonvisualnetwork.org/.

Giving

Last year, 65% of those who participated in a survey for the UK’s Charities Aid Foundation in Malta said they donated money to charity, putting the country in fifth place out of 142 countries. This result revealed an even stronger culture of gene­rosity than in the previous year, when Malta was ranked seventh in the world.

Overall, Malta was ranked 20th in the index.  The ranking was based both on donations to charity and the proportion of people who reported helping a stranger or who volunteered their time to an organisation. Fifty-six per cent of respondents in Malta said they had helped someone they didn’t know but only 25% said they had volunteered time to an organisation.

Examples abound.  The charity We Are Not a Shop, launched before the pandemic by Martin and Stephanie Laing, raised more than €80,000 for the Save the Valletta Skyline Appeal and St John Malta.  Over €17,000 were raised in aid of Embrace Diversity Organisation, founded in 2018 by Claudette Curmi and other mothers who felt the need to support the disability sector in Malta. Earlier this year, more than €3 million were collected in aid of Puttinu Cares, a charity that assists families of individuals who need medical treatment abroad.

It is a well-known fact that one of the major positive effects of donating money to charity is simply feeling good about giving. Being able to give back to those in need helps us achieve a greater sense of personal satisfaction and growth.  This leads to a feeling of self-worth knowing that we have offered much-needed resources to a great cause for those in need.

According to the research, the lowest ranked countries in the index were Poland followed by Croatia, Yemen, Japan, and Greece.  It makes us feel good.  At least it balances the sense of despair one experiences when reading columns upon columns of hate speech in the social media.  Or could it be that those who indulge in hate feel they must give to others to balance the scales  ̶  just, you know, for when they have to give an account of their behaviour to the Almighty?

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