Key Services that MER offers include:

  • Aquaculture Management (includes a wide range of services such as business and market planning, technical and economic feasibility analysis, site evaluation, fish genetic and infectious disease diagnostics, techniques to improve feed conversion and fish growth, feed management nutritional assessment etc.
  • Waste management and reduction
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Hatchery and nursery design and management
  • Image processing analysis
  • Modelling simulations
  • Underwater maintenance
  • Consulting on developing sustainable methods such as the polyculture with Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) units

Cyprus is located in the Levantine Basin (Eastern Mediterranean) characterized by increased salinity and temperature when compared to the other basins of the Mediterranean Sea. In addition the waters are oligotrophic, i.e. poor in nutrient concentrations (P-limitation) and low primary productivity. These environmental parameters make the waters of Cyprus an ideal medium to cultivate marine species.  Increased water temperature benefits the rapid development of fish and the low abundance of pathogens minimizes losses to disease and antibiotic free seafood. Some farms manage to reach a commercial weight of sea bream at 300 g in 12 months.

At present, aquaculture production in Cyprus accounts for about 70% of the national fisheries production and over 70% of the value. During the last decade mariculture in Cyprus has been the fastest growing food production industry. Fish farming efforts even though they initiated many years ago it’s only recently that they expanded mainly with offshore cage farms. Due to freshwater shortage problems, freshwater aquaculture is limited to small scale trout farming on the Troodos mountain range. Most fish farms are now open-sea cage systems culturing mainly gilt-head seabream (Sparus aurata) and European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) and previously inactive fattening bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) which have been converted to seabream and seabass fattening units. Most farms are located in Vasiliko Bay (south coast), two units adjacent to the Limassol port (south coast) and one off the coast at Liopetri (southeast coast). The fish farms operate at about 1 to 3 kilometres from the coastline, at water depths of ~20-50 meters. Some farms (those that used to fatten bluefin tuna) are in deeper waters (~70 meters).

Fish farming activity can induce irreversible changes to the local environment. The main problem associated with open-sea cage farming are the organic effluents (uneaten fish feed and fish excretions) released by the fish farming process which inevitably result in organic enrichments in the water column and the benthos at the vicinity of the fish farm. Overall, the biogeochemistry of the sediment is altered and it becomes an inhospitable habitat to most marine species. What’s more, the reduced sediment quality can create deteriorated water conditions and hence an unhealthy environmental medium for the fish cultured. The extent of this impact can be affected by several factors such as current magnitude and direction, oxygen and temperature in the water column, depth of the site, amount of fish feed delivered, fish stock densities, cage distribution, as well as, biotic and abiotic characteristics of the benthos. It is worth noting that while licenced production of offshore fish farms has recently increased, several fish farms have relocated to deeper water to reduce the impacts to the seagrass Posidonia oceanica meadows. The farms now operating in deeper and less sheltered waters have more efficient dispersion of their effluents over a larger distance but to a lesser extent.

It is vital that research regarding the aquaculture industry is promoted. Detailed studies should be undertaken prior to the establishment of the farm, during production and after cessation of all activities (it could be best that a farm is moved to allow for the recovery of the affected site). There are numerous applicable methods that could maximize production and mitigate negative environmental impacts. Perhaps the solution to the environmental problems of aquaculture lies to the application of Integrated Multi-trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) where secondary species from different trophic levels are cultured adjacent to fish. These co-cultivars use fish farm effluents as resource and mitigate environmental impacts while the production of seafood by fish farms is increased and diversified. For more information on this promising mitigation technique see our FP7 project IDREEM.

From simple aquaculture management decisions to comprehensive research projects, MER’s sustainable aquaculture specialists and marine biologists can undertake all related requests by customers. MER’s staff have completed several EIA and monitoring studies on the subject. MER currently carries out the environmental semi-annual monitoring at three operating fish farms at Cyprus. MER’s personnel have offered managing and consulting services to local fish farms.