Friday, 28 February 2020 14:33

European expertise in farming and processing could benefit sector in Uzbekistan

EM1 20 UZAmbitious strategy charts out aquaculture development

This article was featured in EUROFISH Magazine 1/2020

Fish production in the Republic of Uzbekistan comes primarily from inland capture fishing and fish farming. The latter is mainly the extensive pond production of silver carp and common carp, but plans are afoot to expand this to other species using water-conserving technologies.

Uzbekistan is a landlocked country situated in the middle of Central Asia and has an area of about 450,000 km2. The country has a typical inland climate with marked seasonal temperature fluctuations, i.e. hot summers and cold winters. The average temperature in summer is about 27 оС often rising to more than 40 оС in the daytime, while the average temperature in February is -6 to -8 оС.

Better care of water resources would increase sector potential

There are more than 500 rivers in Uzbekistan, most of them in the mountainous part of the country. The most water-abundant is the Amu Darya, 1,140 km long, with a flow of 78 km3/year; the Syr Darya is 2,140 km long and has a flow of 36 km3/year. There is a well-developed network of irrigation (150,000 km) and drainage (100,000 km) canals and collectors. Irrigation has regulated all the rivers in the basin and changed all the natural reservoirs, especially in the plains; a network of water storage lakes has been formed, some of which have become major fishery basins. However, natural basins tend to accumulate polluted water containing salts, hydrogen sulphide, ammonia, and free carbon dioxide, from agriculture runoff and industrial discharges. This causes an oxygen deficiency preventing development of the natural food supply which interferes with normal fish growth.

The total salt content of the water from these sources varies from 0.6 to 6.3 grams/litre, and it is many times higher in drainage water reservoirs (lakes). Together with an acute shortage of water during the growing season (summer), it slows down the growth rate of the fish and leads to a decrease in commercial catches of valuable fish species. While the mountainous part of the country is rich in streams, there are only 4 rivers in the plains – the Amy Darya and Syr Darya and the less water-bearing Zarafshan and Kashka Darya. The flow of all these rivers has been fully regulated for irrigation purposes. Uzbekistan’s agricultural sector is based almost entirely on irrigation. It is the largest water consumer in the Aral Sea basin, where agriculture has driven the development of irrigation systems.

Association represents companies all along the value chain

Uzbekbaliksanoat Association was established in 2017 in response to legislation enacted to develop fishery management systems, improve fish breeding, and increase fishing companies’ productivity.  As of today, more than 1,200 companies are members of the association. They specialise in fish culture, harvesting, processing, production of pelletized fish feed, and sale of fish products. The association has been working on scaling up fish production, which grew from 65,300 tonnes in 2016 to 84,000 tonnes in 2017, 94,100 tonnes in 2018, and in 2019 is expected to exceed 100,000 tonnes. However, annual fish consumption in Uzbekistan is under 3 kg of fish per capita while the recommended figures are 10-11 kg and the consumption potential in the country is 16-18 kg.

Until recently, the only type of aquaculture in Uzbekistan was carp polyculture in large earthen ponds, where productivity reaches 1,500 to 2,000 kilograms per hectare and 2,000 – 3,000 kg if optimised. However, this extensive technology has serious disadvantages: first the ponds must be filled with water in spring, the water level has to be maintained during summer, and then the ponds must be drained for harvesting in autumn. Water is thus removed from the source for the whole season and never used for any other purpose. More than 22,000 cubic meters of water are removed to fill one hectare of a 1.5-meter-deep pond — while there is a severe deficit of both water resources and irrigated land in Uzbekistan. One of the main requirements of both the agriculture and fishery sectors is an assessment of their needs for water. This information will lay the foundation for the development of new water-saving technologies.

Low water consuming production systems increase in popularity

Among water-saving production systems, intensive carp culture using Chinese technology has been introduced with good results. Using this method 20 to 30 tonnes per hectare are being produced at a private fish farm, Valley Fish, in Andizhan Oblast. More than 20 similar systems are also operating in Tashkent, Navoiy, Xorazm, Surkhandarya and Andizhan Oblasts, and there are plans to further expand the use of this technology. The share of production in intensive systems (tanks, recirculation aquaculture systems, net cages) has grown from 1,545 tonnes (1.8% of the total aquaculture production) in 2017 to 7,600 tonnes (8.1%) in 2018 and is expected to exceed 15,000 tonnes (10%) in 2019. Water scarcity and the lack of sites to construct new ponds in irrigated areas make water-saving projects attractive. More than 20 projects have been chosen throughout the country to build capacities (8,000 tonnes) for growing trout, salmon and sturgeon in foothill areas. These projects will be implemented over the next five years using the experience of Golden Fish Group Ltd, a company with expertise in cold water fish culture based in in Tashkent Oblast.

Fish cultured in man-made ponds (38,000 ha) amounts to 64% of the total production; the share of production from natural reservoirs (565,000 ha) is 25-26% including 8-10% of trash fish used for non-food processing; finally 8-10% of fish is cultured in intensive systems. Diversity of fish species is comparatively poor in Uzbekistan with under 100 species in natural reservoirs and only 20 to 22 of them of commercial interest. Aquaculture provides 7 to 8 fish species. The volume of aquaculture production of some fish species, like silver carp, is 1.5 to 2 times the demand. There is strong competition among carp producers, which results a plentiful supply of common carp and silver carp weighing 700 g to 2 kg at very reasonable prices. Common carp and silver carp production in extensive ponds systems and the introduction of common carp and African catfish culture in tanks and net cages keep prices for these species at a stable level.  Local consumers prefer fish of 1.5 kg or more, but it takes 1.5 to 2 years to grow fish to this size.

Range of locally produced fish products is limited

The assortment of species caught in natural reservoirs include roach, bream, snakehead, zander, common carp, Georgian shemaya (Alburnus derjugini), goldfish among others. While carp, silver carp, African catfish and some lake species are supplied both live and chilled in sufficient volume, valuable species like tilapia, sturgeon, trout, and salmon are scarce on the market. Fish imports in 2018 amounted to 4,090 tonnes worth USD7.7 million and the main imported products were salmon, Alaska pollock and pangasius fillets, canned fish, and small volumes of smoked fish. Fish exports in 2018 were worth USD2.1 million and comprised mainly zander fillets. Fish processing in Uzbekistan is a relatively recent activity. The company, Xorazm Balik Sanoat Agro started producing canned fish (2 million pcs) in Xorazm Oblast and is building another factory with a capacity of 9 million pcs in Muynak Region of the Republic of Karakalpakstan (an autonomous republic within Uzbekistan).

Much work has been done in the country to improve education in the fisheries sector. Seven higher educational establishments (Tashkent Agrarian University, Nukus Branch of the Agrarian Institute, Samarkand Veterinary Institute, Uzbek National University, Bukhara, Namangan, and Fergana State Universities) educate personnel for the industry. Twenty-six masters, 98 full-time bachelors and 115 distant education bachelors will soon join the ranks of fish breeding specialists and researchers at fishery research institutes. The Fishery Research Institute under the State Committee for Veterinary and Livestock Development conducts research in the field of intensive aquaculture development. Uzbekbaliksanoat Association funded the laboratory for new aquaculture technologies hosted by the institute. Easy Fish, a domestic company producing aquaculture equipment, also contributed to the establishment of the laboratory, which is fully supplied with modern equipment. Here, researchers implement projects on the acclimatisation of promising fish species in Uzbekistan; study reproductive behaviour of local fish species; develop artificial breeding methods; and experiment with feeding technologies using recipes containing local ingredients.

Comprehensive ten-year strategy includes rearing of cold water species

The association has developed a strategy for the development of the fishery industry by the year of 2030. The strategy aims to strengthen food security by increasing fish production using water-saving industrial technologies. In addition, the strategy envisages the:

  • development of pond breeding technology for local fish species, their reproduction, genetic selection, and restocking;
  • introduction of new species (salmon, trout, sturgeons, various catfish species, tilapia, etc.);
  • prevention and treatment of fish diseases; improvement in quality of water and fish products;
  • assessment of the state of fish resources; protection of commercial fish stock; fishery forecasting; stocking with herbivorous fish species; increase in catch and processing of fish from natural reservoirs;
  • the development of processing capacities for other types of products (canned fish, preserves, pate, fillet, fish cakes) as regards the main cultivated species (silver carp);
  • saturation of the market with fish products from domestic producers; increase in proportion of fish in people’s diet and reduction in prices for fish products.

The fisheries sector in Uzbekistan still has scope to grow and develop. Close ties have been established with many countries to attract investment on mutually beneficial terms, among them China, Russia, Turkey, Vietnam, Germany, and Hungary. One of the sector’s priorities is the culture of cold water species like trout, salmon and sturgeon. European countries have decades of experience in the production, processing, and packaging of these fish and their products, and in the manufacture of fish feeds. The Uzbekbaliksanoat Association would like to explore ways of collaborating with European companies to bring some of this knowhow and experience to the sector in Uzbekistan.

Rukhulla Kurbanov
First Deputy Chairman, Uzbekbaliksanoat Association