In 2020 the Albanian government stopped issuing fishing licenses for vessels with a length over 12 meters. From 5 December MARD will not issue new fishing licenses for trawlers, purse seiners, hydraulic dredgers, hook and line vessels, or for any other type of commercial fishing license. New licenses will be issued only for fishing vessels with a gross tonnage and engine power less than or equal to a fishing vessel with a valid fishing license, as its replacement; or sunken vessels, which had a valid fishing license, as a replacement. Also, all new bottom trawlers need to be younger than 20 years old, due to the average age of the Albanian fishing fleet.
Modernising one of the oldest fleets in the Mediterranean
The Albanian fishing fleet is one of the oldest in the Mediterranean, according to the GFCM (2020), with an average age per vessel of 38 years followed by Croatia (39 years), Slovenia (41 years), and Israel (46 years). In this regard MARD with the assistance of the European Union has prepared a grant scheme in support of the fishing fleet. Actions include the design and implementation of an investment grant scheme for the fishing fleet with the purpose to improve its sustainability without increasing fishing effort. The scheme provides grants that, together with beneficiaries’ co-funding, aim to improve navigation and safety (e.g., radio-satellite equipment), food safety (e.g. cold storage), make fishing more sustainable (e.g. gears), and reduce environmental pollution (e.g. engines). The specific objective of this initiative is financial support to increase the safety of fishermen on board fishing vessels during navigation, improve the economic performance of the fishing enterprises by adopting measures aimed at energy saving and better cold storage of the catch, and decreasing negative impacts on the environment such as water pollution and over exploitation of stocks.
The identification of AZA should boost aquaculture production
Aquaculture in Albania is an important sector with great potential to benefit coastal communities by providing nutritious food and positive socio-economic outcomes. Total production from freshwater, brackish water, and the marine environment has steadily increased over the recent years from 3 450 tonnes in 2012 to 6 258 tonnes in 2018 valued at about EUR19m (FAO). The main production systems are sea cages for seabass and seabream (3 500 tonnes) operated by 12 companies all working in the Ionian Sea in the Vlora / Sarande region of southern Albania. The production of trout was around 1 800 tonnes last year due to a new cage farm in an artificial dam lake. Mussel production from concrete facilities in the Butrinti lagoon as well as from two long line facilities in the Adriatic Sea was 1 000 tonnes.
Allocated zones for aquaculture (AZA) are defined as “a marine area where the development of aquaculture has priority over other uses” and they are therefore primarily dedicated to aquaculture. The identification of an AZA results from zoning processes through participatory spatial planning, whereby administrative bodies legally establish that specific spatial areas within a region have priority for aquaculture development. In the Mediterranean region, the role of AZA as a planning tool is acknowledged as providing a suitable framework for the sustainable development of aquaculture in dedicated areas. The establishment of AZA contributes to the sound integration of aquaculture within marine spatial planning and coastal areas, that is key to the prevention of conflicts over the use of marine space.
Aquaculture could bring economic and nutritional benefits to coastal communities
The establishment of AZA ensures better integration of aquaculture in coastal areas and is a prerequisite to issue new aquaculture licenses and leases. The latter are essential for a regulatory and administrative framework dedicated to aquaculture that can ensure the sound and sustainable development of the sector. Currently, the Albanian aquaculture sector generates about 600 direct jobs including full- and part time work as well as all the indirect employments in ancillary economic activities along the value chain (e.g. processing, distribution, retailing, packaging, equipment, feed industry, food service, tourism, etc.). Albania has great potential to further develop the sector given the availability of coastal areas which could host aquaculture facilities in AZA for both finfish and shellfish production. An expansion of the aquaculture sector would generate further direct and indirect employment along the whole value chain while at the same time contributing to increase the protein intake from heathy fish and seafood products.
The AZA along the Albanian coastal area have been clustered in four macro sub-areas, Shëngjin, Durrës, Vlorë, and Sarandë. They are categorised in two main groups—for finfish and shellfish. The AZA proposal was made taking into account a series of parameters including (i) the absence of conflicts with other uses of maritime space, (ii) absence of negative interactions with the environment or sensitive habitats (e.g.: Posidonia
bed) or marine protected areas (iii) no overlapping with maritime traffic routes, fishing areas, military areas or other types of activities, (iv) absence of any other aquaculture facilities, (v) the absence of major sources of contamination in the vicinity, (vi) sufficient water depth that favors the dispersion of catabolites produced by aquatic organisms reared, (vii) a substrate suitable for anchoring aquaculture facilities, and (viii) low exposure to storm surges. In addition, the adoption of allowable zones of effects (AZEs) near the aquaculture facilities would ensure the spatial dimension of environmental protection. Allowable zones of effects are areas of seabed or volume of the recipient water body in which the competent authority may allow the use of specific environmental quality standards (EQS) for aquaculture, without irreversibly compromising the basic environmental services provided by the ecosystem.
The EU is the main destination for exports of processed seafood
The processing industry currently comprises 30 companies producing numerous types of processed fish products that are destined for export. The principal processing centres are in Elbasan, Lezhe, Durrës, and Shkoder. These companies are approved by the EU and process fresh fish collected from the national fishing fleet. Imported raw material arrives either in the form of frozen blocks or already salted in barrels. The main species of fish processed are small pelagics, such as sardines, and anchovies, as well as deep-water rose shrimp,
The application and enforcement of market legislation that harmonises with EU legislation is very important for the future development of the sector, particularly as the EU is the most important destination for these products followed by the Balkan countries, and the domestic market. Producers have the capacity to process 4 500 tonnes of anchovy but Albania’s exports of anchovy to the EU are capped at 1,600 tonnes thus penalising production capacity and employment in the sector. The remaining fish processing facilities process fresh fish for both the domestic and foreign markets. Handling involves sorting by size, icing and boxing, and distribution. There are a number of small municipality-run retail fish markets nationwide where wholesalers presenting their products for sale.
Exports increase in 2020 compared to previous year despite the pandemic
Even though affected by the pandemic situation, imports and exports increased by around 10% in 2020, compared to 2019. In 2020 25 635 tonnes of fish products with a value of EUR82m were imported into Albania. More than 89% of the fish product imported was fresh fish. The main species imported were deep-water rose shrimp, common shrimp, northern shrimp, European pilchard, and European anchovy. Albanian export of fish products in 2020 was 16,331 tonnes, with a value of EUR104m. Around 51% of the seafood exported was fresh fish.