Monday, 01 May 2017 00:00

Fishers and farmers increasingly add value to their production

Although a small country (pop. 2.8m) Lithuania has a highly diverse fisheries and aquaculture sector. The fishing fleet comprises tiny vessels that are active in inland waters as well as colossal ones fishing the high seas, the aquaculture sector combines traditional pond farms producing carp and other freshwater species with ultra-modern recirculation aquaculture systems. The value of the output from the processing industry, which produces a large variety of fresh, frozen, smoked, salted, marinated, and canned products, has been growing steadily and was more than half a billion euros in 2016.

Agne Razmislaviciute-Palioniene, Director of Fisheries

According to Statistics Lithuania as of 1 Jan 2016 the Lithuanian fishing fleet comprised 290 vessels. These can be divided into four segments, high seas, Baltic Sea, coastal, and inland waters. The fisheries administration recently introduced transferable quotas to all fleet segments in a bid to modernise fisheries management and make the activity more profitable. Arturas Bogdanovas, Vice Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, says that the administration studied systems of management being used in different parts of the world, before coming to the conclusion that an ITQ system would be the most appropriate in the Lithuanian context. The fishermen too were enthusiastic, at least about certain aspects of the new system. They liked the idea of being allocated quotas for a period longer than a year and the fact that they would be based on historical catches, says Agne Razmislaviciute-Palioniene, the Director of Fisheries. The system has built in safeguards to prevent undue concentration of quotas in the hands of few fishermen, a problem that has been seen in other parts of Europe.

 

High seas fleet targets small pelagics off Africa

The high seas fleet is active in waters governed by regional fisheries management organisations in the northwest Atlantic, the northeast Atlantic, the south Pacific, and in African waters, specifically off Mauritania and Morocco, countries with which the EU has entered into bilateral agreements. The most important species that are fished in these waters are redfish, jack mackerel, mackerel. Some of the quotas allocated to Lithuania are very small so companies which have a share will often swap it to build up bigger quotas. Vessels of the high seas fleet tend to be big and expensive to operate so they must be able to catch a substantial quantity for the fishing to be commercially viable. They must also fish for as long as possible, so catches are usually processed on board and trans-shipped at sea to allow the fishing vessel to operate continuously without having to sail back to port to discharge its cargo. Catches by the high seas fleet have fluctuated significantly over the two years to 2016 falling by more than half in 2015 before increasing 44% to 76,380 tonnes in 2016. Production from African waters in 2016 was responsible for over 90% of the volume of the high seas catch. Lithuanian vessels have also been catching snow crab in international waters in the Barents Sea. Volumes doubled to almost 1,900 tonnes in 2015 compared to the year before, but fell back to 485 tonnes in 2016. Snow crab is an invasive species in the Barents Sea and a valuable product that is fished by several fleets including Norwegian, Russian, and Latvian. However, there are competing claims on the resource related to international issues about the continental shelf, which will need to be settled before the fishery can really take off.

Pike, a valuable fish, is caught in the Curonian lagoon as well as on pond farms.

 

The Baltic Sea fishery is carried out offshore and along the coast. The Lithuanian Fisheries Law defines coastal fishing as fishing in a coastal zone by vessels not exceeding 12 m in length and using passive fishing gear or gear operated from the shore. In the Lithuanian fleet, vessels below 12 m are by far the most numerous, amounting to 101 vessels or over 70% of the total. In the Baltic Sea the most important species for Lithuania are cod, sprat, herring, flounder and salmon. After declining by 30% to 25,000 tonnes between 2007 and 2011, the total of Lithuania’s quotas in the Baltic sea have been largely stable since 2012, hovering around 20,000 tonnes. Quotas are based on advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), and individual quotas have tended to move in different directions, with the quotas for herring and sprat increasing since 2012, while those for cod and salmon going down. Catches, on the other hand, increased by 12% to 18,700 tonnes between 2012 and 2016.

 

Yields stable from the Curonian lagoon

The Curonian lagoon is a body of water separated from the Baltic Sea by a narrow spit. Near Klaipeda at the northern tip of the lagoon is a narrow channel into the Baltic Sea that allows the exchange of water. The Nemunas river discharges into the lagoon and is responsible for the generally very low salinity. This varies however depending on weather conditions which can cause more or less water from the Baltic to flow into the lagoon. Apart from bringing freshwater into the lagoon the Nemunas is also a source of mineral and organic nutrients which fertilise the lagoon facilitating the growth of zooplankton. This serves as feed for the fish in the lagoon, for which there is a well-established fishery. The most commercially important species are pike perch, bream, roach, vimba bream, smelt, and perch. Over the last few years the yield from the Curonian lagoon has stabilised at about 1,200 tonnes per year. There are about 50 fishing companies operating in the lagoon. They use small vessels typically between 6 and 10 m and, according to a 2014 article in Coastline Reports, different fixed gears, gillnets with different mesh sizes, the larger size for bream and pikeperch, the smaller for roach, perch and vimba; fyke nets for eel, smelt, lamprey. Towed seines are used to catch smelt as they migrate from the Baltic Sea to the Nemunas river spawn in spring. As part of the management of fish stocks several temporal and technical restrictions on fisheries in the lagoon are in place that prohibit fishing with certain gears in certain periods. To maintain the fishery the lagoon is also periodically restocked with fish. These are produced at facilities belonging to the Fisheries Service under the Ministry of Agriculture, one of which is a brand new laboratory located on the Curonian spit.

Lithuania also has a commercial inland fishery that generates some 1,400 tonnes a year. The fisheries law determines that a fishery for vendace, smelt, river-lamprey and eel is permitted in public inland waters, while other species can only be targeted in polders, ponds exceeding 200 ha, and private inland waters. The fisheries are managed by transferable quotas that are allocated by auction in some instances but not all. The kind of water body for which the quota is issued, influences whether it will be auctioned or not. Regular research is carried out on the status of stocks in inland water bodies exceeding 200 ha where there is a commercial fishery. The results of the research are used to determine the total allowable catch.

*mainly mackerel, jack mackerel, redfishMinistry of Agriculture, Lithuania
High seas catches 
  2014 2015 2016
Mauritania  29,561   14,901   24,807 
Morocco  84,851   23,157   46,755 
NEAFC  1,478   3,335   4,818 
NAFO No fishing activities No fishing activities No fishing activities
SPRFMO No fishing activities  11,354  No fishing activities
Ministry of Agriculture, Lithuania
Catches in the Baltic Sea
  2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Cod  3,057   2,483   1,742   1,196   1,737   1,669 
Herring  2,655   2,276   2,475   2,153   4,724   5,199 
Sprat  9,730   11,245   10,353   9,679   11,003   11,548 
Flounder  452   648   1,002   733   272   303 
Total  15,894   16,652   15,572   13,761   17,736   18,719 

 

 

Aquaculture production expands slowly

The aquaculture industry in Lithuania ranges from the traditional to the ultra modern. Carp farming has a history that goes back to the fifteenth century while in the late nineteenth century the first salmonids were bred. In total, there are some 10,000 ha of reservoirs, and 9,000 sq. m of basins and canals available for the production of farmed fish. Today carp, Asian carps, and other freshwater species both herbivores and carnivores, are farmed in ponds. Over the last few years, and thanks in no small measure to support from the EMFF, recirculation systems have been established for the cultivation of several high value species, such as trout, African catfish and other freshwater species. In addition, a minor volume (155 tonnes) is farmed in tanks and raceways. Production is dominated by common carp, which accounted for over 80% of the volume in 2015, with rainbow trout coming in second at 6.2%. In total, farmed output between 2011 and 2016 increased by a third to 4,387 tonnes. Some pond farmers are making some of their production organic. This has an impact on stocking densities, which are lower than in conventional farming, and the feed that is used, which has to be organically certified. The shift to organic can be attributed to a combination of personal conviction, a need to distinguish the product, and a response to a growing general interest in food that is healthy and natural.

Ministry of Agriculture, Lithuania
Fish production (tonnes)
  2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Aquaculture  3,596   4,209   3,841   4,447   4,387 
Inland water catches 1,614 1,465 1,194 1,420 1,206

 

Farmers sell added-value products

Not all farmers are content with just producing fish and selling it – a few have started processing operations where the fish is cleaned, filleted, and frozen, or also smoked, or even made into other products such as salads, pâtés or other items. These are then sold freshly prepared from their own premises creating a customer base in the local area that the farmer can serve directly. Apart from the financial advantage of eliminating the intermediary, direct sales bring their own benefits. The farmer/processor gets to know his customers tastes and can see immediately which products do well. He can also interact with them directly, perhaps getting ideas for new products. Shops are not the only kind of outlet that farmers are investing in. Others are opening fish restaurants that are supplied with fish from their own production. Not all is rosy in the aquaculture sector however. Predation is an issue for pond farmers, finding suitably qualified labour is becoming increasingly difficult, and for farmers with recirculation systems, the extruded feed used is becoming more expensive.

Lithuania had a fish and seafood processing industry manufacturing a range of products for the domestic and neighbouring markets even before it joined the EU. A highly skilled and competitively priced workforce, plus proximity to western markets were among the reasons that Lithuania was one of the countries that benefited from the outsourcing of seafood processing activities by companies in western Europe even before it joined the EU in 2004. Today there are some 50 companies (GAIN report, Jan. 2017) in the processing industry which employ some 5,500 people and manufacture about 141,000 tonnes of products.
Highly capable, export oriented processing sector

Processors sell on the domestic market usually under their own brands while exports are typically for private label. A wide range of products can be found in a well-stocked supermarket in Lithuania, many of them not available in the west. The products vary by species, recipes used to prepare them, and by packaging, and cater to every taste and income bracket. Most of the production is based on imported raw material – pelagic species from the Atlantic like herring and mackerel, but also farmed salmon from Norway and more exotic species including the large pelagics, tuna and marlin, crustaceans like shrimp and prawns, mussels, and cephalopods. Products from the local inland fisheries and aquaculture production, carp, pike-perch, bream, catfish, perch, tench, and pike etc. are sold fresh, filleted, and even live, as well as smoked. Salted, and marinated products are widely developed and seafood snacks are also popular. Lithuania hosts several of the production facilities of one of the biggest manufacturers of surimi and seafood products in Europe. Many of these products including various types of surimi are sold in Lithuanian supermarkets. The variety and ready availability of seafood may contribute to Lithuania’s increasing consumption of seafood per capita, which, according to Statistics Lithuania, has gone from 14 kg per capita in 2007 to 19 kg in 2015.

Statistics Lithuania
Trade in fisheries and aquaculture products (thousand euros)
  2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Exports to EU  280,844   317,841   387,979   454,436   504,317 
Exports to non-EU  20,703   27,593   33,942   25,640   23,094 
Exports total  301,547   345,434   421,921   480,076   527,411 
           
Imports from EU  168,182   210,021   267,582   274,210   336,888 
Imports from non-EU  107,800   108,697   108,377   122,965   142,680 
Imports total  275,982   318,718   375,958   397,175   479,568 

Rising imports and exports testify to Lithuanian processing skills

The factors that contributed to Lithuanian companies’ status as contract processors of fish and seafood, competitively priced skilled labour and proximity to markets in the west are still valid. With support from EU structural funds many processing plants have been modernised or rebuilt and are highly efficient state of the art facilities that can export anywhere in the world. According to Statistics Lithuania the country’s exports of fish and seafood have increased hugely over the last 10 years from EUR161m in 2007 to EUR504m in 2016. The overwhelming majority of this trade is with the EU, which in 2016, absorbed 95% of the total (in value). Dried, salted and smoked fish is the biggest product group to be exported with about 45% of the total export value followed by preserves (24%) and fillets (23%). The raw material for the processing industry is both locally sourced and imported. While Lithuania’s exports of fish and seafood products have risen, so has the value of its imports, which increased from EUR164m in 2007 to EUR480m in 2016. On average, about two thirds of the imports are drawn from the EU. By far the most imported product in 2016 was fresh fish, which was responsible for three fourths of the total import value. This was followed by frozen fish at less than a tenth of the total and prepared or preserved products with 7%. The biggest supplier in 2016, again by a large margin, was Sweden, from where the value of imports amounted to EUR215m or almost half the total. Most of this amount can be attributed to imports of Atlantic salmon. The value of imports from Germany, the second most important supplier of seafood, amounted to EUR44m.

The Fisheries Service develops a traceability system

Monitoring the flow of fisheries and aquaculture products

Traceability of fisheries and aquaculture products has been a concern in most EU Member states since the new European Union fisheries control system under the main control regulation No. 1224/2009 came into force. The European Commission has pointed out that the traceability system, foreseen in the control regulation and based on paper documents, is still not effective. However, the Commission has not presented member states with any common guidelines for the electronic traceability system. Some member states, seeking to implement the provisions of the control regulation, have established electronic traceability systems to ensure effective and efficient traceability of fisheries and aquaculture products.

In Lithuania, the new fisheries law that came into force in 2016, states that “the procedure for ensuring the traceability of fisheries products in line with provisions of the common fisheries policy shall be laid down by the Minister of Agriculture or an institution authorised by him”. A new traceability system has been created and came into force in 2017. The new system is based on documents that are provided electronically and is implemented by the Fisheries Service under the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Lithuania. The Fisheries Service organised the training sessions for all the involved parties in advance and has regular consultations with the different stakeholders.  Since the traceability system is a novelty the results are too early to talk about, however the electronic data are successfully fed to the new system and are analysed by the designated fisheries control officers. In the near future traceability data will be exchanged with cooperating countries (Latvia has already expressed an interest) to perform cross checks and verifications. The Fisheries Service is looking forward to presenting this system to the fisheries administration in other countries so they too can draw on Lithuania’s experience of complying with the challenges of a complex fisheries control system.