Monday, 01 May 2017 00:00

A PO for the Curonian lagoon fisheries

Silute, a small town close to the Curonian lagoon, hosts the Fishery Enterprises Association and producer organisation, Lampetra. About 40 companies are members of the association, which was founded in 1993 and led by Siga Jakubauskiene, the chairwoman of the council.

Siga Jakubauskiene, Chairwoman of the Council of the Fishery Enterprises Association, Lampetra, and Ramunas Krisciunas, the owner of three companies, Baltoji kopa, Juros vejas and Novika.

Lampetra became a producer organisation in 2011 and today is busy implementing its programme for the 2014-17 period. Members of the association are primarily fishermen active in the Curonian lagoon, the Nemunas delta, and the coastal Baltic Sea. There are about 50 companies fishing in the Curonian lagoon of which Lampetra represents 40. Most of these are small family-owned companies with about 5 employees, except in the smelt fishing season when a number of temporary workers are hired. Fishermen typically use either smaller wooden vessels of 6-8 m length or larger ones that are 9-10 m.


Becoming a PO brings significant benefits

There are 19 species of commercial interest in the Curonian lagoon, which the fishermen target with static gear including fyke nets. Catches in the Curonian lagoon amount to about 1,200 tonnes per annum a figure that has stayed largely stable for the past few years. What has changed, however, is the value. Ms Jakubauskiene shows statistics that reveal how the value of the catch has trended upwards over the last four years, a development she attributes to the association becoming a recognised producer organisation (PO). One of the prerequisites was that the association make a programme to improve the quality of the fish. The implementation of the programme resulted in a better-quality product for which the fishermen were able to demand higher prices. The figures show that the unit price increased from 2011 to 2014, but then with the introduction of the euro in 2015 the price declined. It recovered somewhat in 2016, but did not reach the 2014 level. The PO also helps its members with issues such as work safety, veterinary approvals, form filling and submission. It also organises lectures on various topics, improves IT skills and carries out other activities for the good of the members. The members also recognise that united in a PO they carry more weight against their arch enemy, the angling fraternity, with whom they are forced to share stocks.


Various initiatives add value to the catch

Among the steps the PO took to improve the quality of the catch was to improve the logistics. Transport times were reduced with the introduction of faster cars, and refrigeration was widely used when freighting and storing the fish. The PO also carried out promotion campaigns, organised tasting events, and had the products analysed in laboratories to verify the quality, all of which resulted in greater awareness and increased popularity of the products. As an inland fisheries PO Lampetra could not however make use of the storage aid mechanism as this is available only for saltwater species. Currently the PO has an ongoing project to establish an electronic fresh fish shop where fishers will be able to sell fresh fish directly to consumers with the help of an app that is being developed. The PO is also creating its own brand “Lampetra” that will be used to market the fish to retailers. The main customers today are processors, companies that smoke or dry the fish, as well as distributors who in turn sell it to the retail sector. But Ms Jakubauskiene would like to eliminate the middlemen and see greater volumes being sold directly to the end consumer.

Mr Krisciunas’ storage facility that was renovated with support from the EFF. Many fishermen in the PO sell their catch to him.


Five-year quotas allow for better planning

The members of the association include both large and small companies. One of them, Baltoji kopa owned by Ramunas Krisciunas, is among the bigger fishing firms. On a site close to a fish landing place Baltoji kopa has a large facility for reception, sorting, and storage of the fish. The building belonged to the company already, and with support from the European Fisheries Fund Mr Krisciunas renovated it some years ago. Now he utilises the capacity for the fish caught by his vessels, but also buys fish from the other fishers. While the quotas allocated to each member of the association is about the same, most fishers do not have the ability to handle the fish after landing. They therefore sell the fish to Mr Krisciunas, who has the infrastructure to consolidate these quantities together with his own catch, and to sort, process, store and sell the fish. For small family businesses without their own logistic operations, companies like Mr Krisciunas’ are perhaps the only link between them and the market. Fisheries in the Curonian lagoon are also managed with quotas which, with the recent introduction of individual transferable quotas, are allocated to the individual for five years. In addition, under the ITQ system, a proportion of the quota is now also sold through an auction. In Ms Jakubauskiene’s opinion the allocation of a quota for five years is desirable because it makes it easier to plan long term, however, she is less enamoured with the idea of selling a proportion of the quotas (about 10%) through an auction. The auction will benefit some fishermen do not have quotas for a certain gear because they have no historical catches with this gear. With the ITQ system, they will now be able to buy a share of the quota that can be caught with this gear.


Strict monitoring of catches prevents overfishing

The Silute area abuts the Nemunas delta, where the river discharges into the Curonian lagoon. In spring flooding is common here as melting snow causes the river to swell and burst its banks. People living in villages in the area are used to these conditions and switch to boats as a means of transport since the roads are flooded. The fishers are not affected as they land their catch at some 20 points around the lagoon. However, they are expected to have registered their catches with the authorities before they arrive at the landing point. Compliance is monitored with spot checks, where inspectors come to the landing point and check that the fish landed conforms to what has been declared. Ms Jakubauskiene says that there are often nine to ten such checks a month. This monitoring is necessary to protect the stocks against overexploitation. It seems to work as catches in the lagoon have been broadly stable for the past few years. The lagoon is shared with the Russian Federation and scientists from both countries have regular joint meetings to discuss the status of fish stocks and to deal with other issues that have a bearing on fisheries in the lagoon.


Alternate sources of income being developed for the closed season

From the middle of April to the middle of July the fishing season is closed to allow the fish to reproduce, says Ms Jakubauskiene. The ban on fishing, however, does not extend to roach, which can be targeted using gear that allows other species that are caught to be returned to the water. The association is trying to develop alternate activities for the fishermen to secure them an income also during the closed season. Inspired by similar activities in France and Italy, one of the ideas being considered is fishing tourism, where tourist who come to the area in spring and summer are introduced to the Curonian lagoon fisheries although at this time fishing is only possible for one species, and not all fishers have a quota for it. But the association is trying to develop projects like this that will link the fishers with tourists in one way or another for the benefit of both parties. These initiatives are important for the sustainability not only of the fisheries, but also the fishermen.