Monday, 01 May 2017 00:00

Balancing capacity with resources for greater profitability

The fisheries sector in Lithuania can boast of a fleet split into four segments, high seas, Baltic Sea, coastal, and inland; an active processing sector producing a variety of products for domestic consumption and for export; and an aquaculture industry that stretches from traditional pond farming to the latest in recirculation aquaculture systems. Administering this diversity is the Ministry of Agriculture which, since a new government was formed late last year, is headed by Bronius Markauskas from the Lithuanian Peasant and Greens Union, an agrarian party. In this interview, Artūras Bogdanovas, Vice Minister for Fisheries, outlines the policy priorities in the fisheries administration under the new political dispensation.

 

The Lithuanian government is dominated by a farmers’ party. What impact will this come to have on the fisheries and aquaculture sector in Lithuania? What are the government’s priorities in this field?

To distinguish itself from its predecessor, the current Lithuanian government calls itself the “changes government”. This does not mean that policies initiated by the previous government will be abandoned and all activities will now start from scratch. There is, however, a distinctly new approach, for example, regarding the FLAGs, or the fishing port at Šventoji. The main task of this government is the design and implementation of effective fisheries policy in Lithuania. I would like to name four main priorities:

− Development and establishment of competitive fisheries companies. We would also like to see the production of fishmeal based on domestic sources of raw material. For this we will encourage private sector initiatives which can count on support from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).
− Balance between fleet capacities and fishing possibilities to ensure the profitability of each segment of the fleet as well as making sure that allocation of fishing quotas is based on transparent and objective criteria and including environmental, and socio-economic indicators;
− Growth of the fisheries local action groups as well as increasing their employment. In this regard, this government is reviewing FLAGS’ strategies, their geographic distribution and the regions they cover, and increasing the financing.
− This government is committed to take active actions to create an operative, small and effective port in Šventoji as demanded by our fishermen, which would be suitable for fisheries, tourism, and recreational uses.

We want to ensure that this port starts operating soon and both public and private investments will be used for creating and modernising the infrastructure. In addition, we foresee that the governing board of the port will also include social partners.

Arturas Bogdanovas, Vice Minister for Fisheries

 

Fishermen today need to focus ever more on getting the most value from their catch as this has benefits for their economies and for the environment. Adding value starts from the moment the catch is landed on board the vessel and continues all the way along the value chain. How can fishermen be encouraged to treat the fish to maximise value?

Firstly, I would like to mention that added value can be created by offering not only freshly-caught fish, but also fresh fillets, or fresh and prepared in other ways that will make it more attractive to consumers. It is also important to have a long-term strategy for the fishing companies. Lithuania introduced a transferable quota system in 2016, which allows the industry to better plan the business for the long term. Initially the right to a proportion of the national TAC (total allowable catch) will be allocated for three years, but in future we are looking at allocating this right for 15 years. I think that the role of producer organisations, of which Lithuania has three, is also important in creating added value thanks to the production and marketing plans that they draw up for their members. And I expect their role to increase in the future. The government also contributes to creating added value by providing possibilities for support through the EMFF.

 

The landing obligation will be phased in by 2019 to cover all species and all fisheries across the EU. It is expected to end the practice of discarding, but will result in fish being landed that cannot be sold on conventional markets. What do you estimate is the current volume of discards in the Lithuanian fisheries and how do you expect discards to be dealt with after being landed?

The landing obligation in the Baltic Sea has been in force since 2015. It was the first sea basin in the EU to implement this requirement, so we already have some experience with this issue. I would like to mention that the volume of discards in the Baltic Sea is relatively small and high seas fishermen also have not reported any problems concerning this matter. However, at the EU level fishermen are facing the problem of catching as by-catch fish, for which quota is not even allocated to Member States (so called choke species). In this regard, we could face difficulties fishing cod in the Baltic Sea and catching as by-catch plaice, for which Lithuania does not have a quota. So even a little by-catch of this fish species would cause problems for Lithuanian fishermen in the Baltic Sea. A possible solution could be that the European Commission sets a non-allocated quota for use by the Member States that do not have quotas for these species, a possibility that is currently being discussed by the Member States and the European Commission.

 

The Common Fisheries Policy has introduced the idea of regionalisation as a way of customising policy to the needs of a group of nations or of a sea basin. How has this approach worked in practice? Do you feel that policy is better able to consider regional specificities? Can you illustrate this with an example?

When speaking about regionalization, firstly, I would like to mention the Baltfish regional forum, which gathers together all eight EU member states around the Baltic Sea. I would state that this regional forum is the most successful among similar regional forums in the EU. It has shown a striking ability to reach a common position on important EU agenda items. Baltfish was established in 2009, even before the EU Common Fisheries Policy was reformed, came into force, and the important issue of regionalization was foreseen. What is more, Baltfish had already provided its opinion on the landing obligation mentioned above, but also on the multiannual plan for stocks of cod, herring and sprat in the Baltic Sea, as well as other proposals for EU legislation. Baltfish actively cooperates with other regional organisation, such as the Baltic Sea Advisory Council and, to tell the truth, is a good example of best practice in the field of regionalisation. Every year under this collaboration Baltfish submits a compromise proposal to EU institutions on the fishing possibilities in the Baltic Sea for the next year and based on this compromise the final decision is adopted in the EU Council. Other examples of our regional cooperation are the joint recommendation on the discard plan, and now we are working technical measures. Although Baltfish was established initially to deal with fishermen’s problems such as TACs and quotas, the landing obligation, discard ban etc., now we are moving to include EMFF issues such as the implementation of the EMFF in the countries. Regionalisation is very useful as it takes into account regional specificities, which are not addressed specifically in the EU-wide policy framework.

 

The Lithuanian high seas fleet fishes in several parts of the world, but the bulk of the catches have been from the Mauritanian and Moroccan EEZs. Now however, four vessels are targeting snow crabs in the Barents Sea. Is Lithuanian interest in the EU’s Fisheries Partnership Agreements with countries like Mauritania and Morocco diminishing?

Firstly, I would like to say that there are different segments of the high seas fisheries. Besides, the fisheries you have mentioned, Lithuanian high seas fishing vessels are also fishing shrimps and have fishing possibilities in the waters regulated by the regional fisheries management organisations - NAFO, NEAFC and SPRFMO. For example, in the SPRFMO Lithuanian vessels have a quota of five thousand five hundred tonnes of jack mackerel. Secondly, Lithuanian vessels fishing pelagic species in the waters of Morocco and Mauritania are capable of catching more and performing more intensive fisheries activities. Lithuania has informed the EU institutions that is interested in the other fishing possibilities under bilateral agreements, should such a possibility arise.

As far as the snow crab fishery is concerned, it is a difficult issue. Lithuania’s fishing vessels were the first in this type of fishery. Interest in this kind of fishery would increase, but unfortunately due to different interpretations of international law, the perspectives and future of this fishery is unclear.

The EMFF supports the development and diversification of the European aquaculture sector. Yet in Lithuania production is still dominated by carps. Do you see this changing soon with different species and improved returns on investment reshaping the domestic aquaculture industry?

We already see that carp’s dominant role in aquaculture production is decreasing. In recent years carp production has decreased from 90% to 80% of the overall amount of aquaculture production. I think that the form of presentation to the consumer should also change and greater variety should be proposed. We invest a lot in the aquaculture sector, one third of the total amount of support from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund in Lithuania is allocated to aquaculture. We already see some positive results – more and more fish is grown in closed recirculation systems. There are currently 26 closed recirculation system companies offering consumers catfish, trout, eel, sturgeon and products made from these fish.

 

How does Lithuania seek to increase visibility of the fisheries and aquaculture sector, promote seafood products, and create awareness about the health benefits of increased seafood consumption, among the population, to increase the consumption of fish?

Unfortunately, Lithuanians do not consume a lot fish and fish products, therefore we are thinking of educating the young generation and inculcating in them the habits of a healthy diet. The ministry has real projects pending on promoting and increasing the consumption of the fisheries products and we will share this information with the Eurofish Magazine in the future. I think that producers should also show their interest in increasing the variety of their products, promoting their taste, quality, and healthfulness, and in meeting the high demands of the contemporary consumer.