Aquaculture is generally defined as the culture of organisms in an aquatic environment. This type of culture can have diverse purposes, such as human or animal feeding, replenishing for fishing activities or for the conservation of aquatic species, production of living bait for fishing, fishkeeping, among others. A variety of fresh water or marine species are cultivated, among them micro and macro algae, mollusks (mussels, oysters, clams), crustaceans (shrimps, crayfish, lobsters), fish and others, such as amphibian species like crocodiles.

This is the agro-industry with the highest growth at a global scale, having registered an increment of about 6,2% per year in the last decade. In 2012, the contribution of aquaculture to human feeding reached 42,2% of the total fishery product.

In Madeira archipelago it is probable that the first activity related in a way to the culture of aquatic organisms might have occurred with the use of weaved baskets in fishing. These were large baskets of hurdles kept on the sea surface that kept small pelagic fish alive inside to be used as living bait by tuna fishing vessels. With the mechanization of fishing, this practice was replaced by the use of tanks inside the boats and fed with sea water pumps.

The first aquiculture enterprise in Madeira was Ribeiro Frio Fish Station in the mid 1950s that produced common trout juveniles of Salmo truta fario, European species (later replaced by the rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss of American origin), for replenishing the island’s brooks and promoting sport fishing. In 1986 was constructed in Chão da Ribeira, Seixal, Porto Moniz council, a new trout farm with concrete tanks by a private initiative and dedicated to the reproduction and fattening of rainbow trout for consumption.

At the beginning of the 90’s decade of the 20th century, the Regional Directorate of Fisheries conducted several studies to evaluate the potential of marine cultures in Madeira. The Region denotes scarcity of terrestrial space, and at an acceptable price, as well as low primary sea productivity. Indeed, experiments at Funchal bay conducted at the beginning of the same decade showed lower performance of the Pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas due to several stress factors, namely salinity, temperature, and in particular, nutrient deficiency. Given Madeira’s constraints and potentialities, open sea pisciculture was considered as the most suitable culture system for developing a regional marine aquaculture industry.

The first marine pisciculture was installed in 1996, at the Abra bay, Caniçal, by initiative of the Regional Directorate of Fisheries. It was the first culture establishment of the kind in Portugal with the objective of testing the technical and commercial viability of pisciculture for gilt-head bream (Sparus aurata) fattening in open sea in Madeira. The installation was composed of four floating plastic cages, with an individual useful cultivation capacity of around 1200 m3, and a semi-submerged steel cage with a useful volume of 3500 m3. The annual production capacity was of approximately 100 tons of fish. This pisciculture was given in concession through a public auction to the company Ilhapeixe, Peixe da Ilha, Lda. in 2004 and since then the company has made several restructuring of the original enterprise, being the pisciculture currently composed of eight cages of 2500 m3 of useful volume with a total annual production capacity surrounding 320 tons of gilt-head bream.

In 1997 emerged another marine pisciculture for the culture of gilt-head bream as an initiative of the company Aquamad, Aquacultura da Madeira Lda., at Contreiras, Seixal, based on land and constituted of concrete tanks, with eight tanks for pre-fattening of 50 m3 useful volume and 12 tanks of 350 m3 useful volume. This pisciculture with annual production capacity of 90 tons of fish was active until 2008.

In order to fill the need of creating an infrastructure of technical support for the development of pisciculture, the Regional Government of Madeira created in 2001 the Mariculture Center in Calheta. At the Center’s facilities the reproduction of gilt-head bream and other marine fish was conducted, producing juvenile fish for the fattening piscicultures that until then fulfilled their needs exclusively by importing these fish.

A new open-sea pisciculture was inaugurated in 2004 as an initiative of the company Aquailha, Aquacultura Lda. in Campanário, Ribeira Brava. It was destined for the annual fattening of 240 tons of gilt-head bream in six floating plastic cages with an individual useful volume of 2500 m3.

The annual production of gilt-head bream in Madeira by the two companies currently in activity has been increasing. In 2012 the production reached 416 tons (about 47% of the national production of this species in that year) according to data provided by the Regional Directorate of Fisheries and in 2013 it increased to 526 tons.  In an attempt for diversifying the product, other species are being tested for production in large scale cages, namely Sargo (Diplodus sargus), as a collaboration between the Mariculture Center in Calheta and private companies.

Bibliog.: ANDRADE, Carlos Alberto Pestana, “A Fishfarm Pilot-Project in Madeira Archipelago, Northeastern Atlantic-I. The Offshore Option”, in POLK, Marie (ed.), Open-Ocean Aquaculture, Proceedings of an International Conference, Portland, Maine, 1996, pp. 371-376; KAUFMANN, Manfred Josef, et al., “Survival, Growth and Glycogen Content of Pacific Oysters Crassostrea Gigas (Thunberg, 1793), at Madeira Island (subtropical Atlantic)”, Journal of Shellfish Research, n.º 13 (2), 1994, pp. 503-505; FAO, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2014, Rome, 223 pp.

Carlos Andrade

(updated 18.04.2016)