The main environmental parameters of the inland waters do not limit the development of freshwater and, in some cases, brackish-water aquaculture. The status of the different fisheries areas varies, but currently not more than 10% of their overall potential is being used. Currently, fish production from Ukraine’s inland waters is carried out in three ways:
- quota-based fishing in medium and large reservoirs, river, lake and estuary systems, targeting stocks of commercial fish species that may be natural or artificially enhanced
- rearing fish to market-size in small reservoirs, which are managed by specialized commercial fish farms (SCFF)
- pond fish farming and industrial fish farming.
Pond area severely depleted due to neglect
Today, the pond area that is still used is slightly over 122,000 ha. However, about 30% of this pond area requires major repairs and renovation. The remaining ponds have largely lost their biological production potential due to silting up, macrophyte growth and inadequate water supply. The main objects of commercial cultivation in Ukraine are common carp, silver and bighead carps (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix, Aristichthys nobilis) and their hybrids, and grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella), whose relative share varies significantly from year to year and between the different farms.
Many fish farms today have very low levels of profitability (no more than 5%). Fish farms with mechanical water supply are practically unable to operate profitably due to the high electricity prices (0.09–0.11 € per 1 kW). Many fish farms were forced to withdraw a part of the pond area from production for financial reasons. The vacated space is now used for growing crops. For the same reason farms were forced to abandon intensive farming technologies and gradually shift to low-cost culture-based fisheries technologies. These developments in pond fish farming have resulted in low productivity and decreased production of market-size fish. Productivity of the grow-out ponds does not exceed 0.4–0.8 t/ha in the vast majority of fish farms. Yet, there are a few fish farms, which consistently achieve yields of 1.5–1.8 t/ha, with up to 2.4 t/ha in some ponds.
In South Ukraine, despite the favourable climatic conditions, many fish farms have shifted to a three-year rearing cycle to save water and produce larger table fish (more than 1 kg). The production capacity of industrial fish farming has also significantly decreased. Only about 40,000 m² of cages are left of the 220,000 m² cage area available in 1990. Less than 1,000 m² tank area is used of the previous 60,000 m².
Consumption relies on imported fish
According to fisheries statistics, the beginning of the 21st century marked a certain growth in per capita consumption of fish products in the country, although it falls short of the 20 kg recommended in the health guidelines. While there is a positive trend in per capita consumption of seafood from imported raw materials, which accounts for 65 to 80% of the total supply, pond fish farming is characterized by a steady decrease in production due to obsolete technology, a lack of investment and increasing imbalance in resources and financial means. According to experts, the consequence of this development is a significant reduction in the efficiency of exploitation of the main elements of production –specialized pond areas, material and labour resources. It should also be noted that the loss of aquaculture production capacities has a negative impact of the population’s food supply and destabilizes the country's food market.
The shrinking of the aquaculture sector in Ukraine can be attributed to several factors. The chaotic transition to a market economy and the destruction of management and production systems as well as the loss of state compensation for fish farms contributed to the gradual decline of fish farming. In addition, fish farms could not get loans at preferential rates as other parts of the agriculture sector, while at the same time the cost of inputs climbed significantly and market prices for fish only increased slightly. Skilled personnel also drifted away from the sector making production more difficult and the lack of veterinary and sanitary controls led to increased incidence of disease. Finally, the increase in imports stole market share from the farmed fish sector and the weak purchasing power of the population also played a role.
All this takes place against the backdrop of lack of support and control by the state, whose efforts have been focused on the development of poaching control, which, no doubt, is very important. However, as a result, pond fish producers have received little attention, in spite of the fact that the country’s food markets are supplied with high-quality live and chilled fish products due to their work. Government agencies have lost control over pond fish farming, which is a strategically important sector producing valuable protein.
Bold administrative steps could unleash the full potential of the sector
Feeble attempts have been made to remedy the situation and reverse the ongoing destruction of the fish farming sector. In 2013, the Ukrainian Law on Aquaculture (2013) was adopted, which, unfortunately, still does not emphasize the importance of specialized fish ponds as the main source of aquaculture production. The primary focus is on introducing culture-based production, which is economically and environmentally responsible, in small water bodies. This cultivation will be managed primarily by specialized commercial fish farms (SCFF), which had 382 water bodies with a total area of 194,800 hectares in 2010.
Despite the unfavourable situation of the fisheries sector as a whole, and of pond culture in particular, Ukraine still has significant potential for increasing the production of valuable commercial freshwater fish. However this potential can only be fully realised if fish farming is given the same status as agriculture which would unlock certain financial benefits, as well as exempt fish farms from paying for the use of water bodies for 5–10 years if the ponds require major renovation. Other measure that would promote aquaculture development include ensuring a level playing field in the market for fish products, strictly preventing illegal, smuggled or poached fish from distorting the market, and increasing aquaculture research particularly in selective breeding, disease control and new production technologies.
The realization of these tasks will allow to bring Ukrainian fish farming out of the current crisis, substantially increase the production of fish seed and table fish (up to 100,000–110,000 tonnes), make a significant contribution to resolving the problem of food security in the country and create more jobs for thousands of citizens.
Prof. Yu. V. Pilipenko
Kherson State Agrarian University