In the fall of 2015 Poles elected a new government to power triggering several changes in structure and personnel. Among the changes was that the Department of Fisheries moved from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Maritime Economy and Inland Navigation. In an interview with Eurofish Janusz Wrona, Director of the Fisheries Department pointed out that fisheries policies have not changed, and the priorities of the administration regarding aquaculture remain the same.
Baltic Sea cod remains a priority
A major focus continues to be addressing the insufficient availability of cod in the Baltic Sea. There have been low populations of cod observed in the sea, both in terms of individuals and schools. Scientists have been unable to provide a comprehensive explanation for this, but suggest a few natural factors that could contribute to low numbers of cod, such as the lack of inflows into the Baltic Sea. in addition, pelagic fisheries have been catching fish that are natural prey for cod. Another area of uncertainty is that the health status of cod is declining, and pathologists have not yet been able to identify a clear cause. They point to an increasing seal population as a possible source, as seals can carry parasites which could then spread to cod. Poland’s vision for the future includes implementing as many initiatives as possible to improve cod availability, noted Director Wrona, adding that this had also been an area of high priority before the political changes.
Poland has just held the rotating presidency of Baltfish, under which Poland put forward several proposals, which focused on improving the cod population. These included changing the minimum landing size (MLS) of cod from 35 centimetres, as it is now, to 38, and changing cod fishing practices in the Bornholm deep, which is where breeding occurs, as there are concerns that fishing in the area is destroying the roe. Poland was also interested in reducing fisheries for sprat and herring as these are species that cod preys on. Unfortunately, these proposals were not supported by the other members of Baltfish and did not go through. Despite these differences in opinion, Director Wrona maintains that Baltfish is a useful forum for Poland. Members need to negotiate agreements democratically and when the issues being discussed are both complex and contentious this is naturally not easy.
Sustainability in the Baltic, and certification, are also key issues. Director Wrona noted that Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification can be a key factor for sales, especially in the European region, though ultimately the market will determine the worth of certification. Fishermen are interested in certifications, especially for pelagic fish, but the costs related to certification have gone up, leading many fishermen to consider whether it is worth it.
Aquaculture will see investments in recirculation systems, traditional pond farming
Production in the Polish aquaculture sector stems from modern closed recirculation systems, traditional intensive farms and traditional extensive systems. Aquaculture in Poland continues to be dominated by carp and trout and is supported strongly by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. Poland is taking measures to diversify and add greater value to its aquaculture production. For example, when evaluating applications seeking support from the EMFF, Poland gives additional points to applicants whose proposals include new and innovative products, processes, or species. This approach has already met with some success. Examples include a project dedicated to salmon farming, and investments in sturgeon caviar production that have resulted in Poland evolving from being an insignificant producer to the fourth-biggest in Europe and the seventh in the world in terms of production volumes. Less successful however were attempts to diversify into barramundi and tilapia farming. The department will continue to encourage diversification and greater value addition, but will also rely on more comprehensive evaluations to ensure the long term viability of projects. For traditional extensive farming Director Wrona anticipated that support would mainly be indirect and would go to water management, environmental sustainability, and compensating farmers for the higher costs of environmental compliance.
Director Wrona also spoke briefly about the status of producer organisations (PO) in Poland. In general, POs for fisheries are well established and currently number ten, yet they have slower to form in the aquaculture sector, where there are only two at the moment. Part of the reason lies in the fact that as a wild resource production and prices for fisheries products tend to fluctuate far more than they do in the aquaculture sector. The day’s weather, catches, and market demand, are among the factors that push prices up and down and there is thus greater need among fishermen for the market stabilising mechanisms that POs offer
Russian embargo may lead to greater competition on Polish market
The Russian trade embargo, and its implications for Poland were also discussed at the meeting. Director Wrona noted that the Russian trade embargo had a minimal impact on the processing sector in Poland. Surveys were conducted to confirm this, and the evidence showed that processing was largely unaffected by the embargo. Exports of Polish production to Russia were not very significant to begin with, making up a very small proportion of Poland’s total seafood production. Polish processing plants have become so specialized and achieved such high quality products that their production is more expensive, and thus goes primarily to markets other than Russia. Russia is more significant to Poland in terms of providing cod and other raw materials to be sent to Poland to be processed. There is still the possibility, though, for indirect impacts on Polish producers, because foreign goods that could not be sent to Russia are sent to other European countries instead, which may result in domestic producers facing greater competition for Polish consumers.
With support from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund Poland’s fisheries and aquaculture sector will continue to develop solutions that will enable it to stay competitive in the years to come. A belief in multilateral institutions such as Baltfish and the discipline imposed by the market ensure the fundamental strength of the sector and will allow it to tackle both natural and man-made challenges.