Fish All Year Round
Fish is a high-quality staple product. In the past the Belarusians practiced “fish” Thursdays. Today they give preference to meat which cannot be a full replacement of fish. Fish consumed in Belarus is mostly imported from other countries. Fish grown domestically, which is the most valuable and fresh, accounts for an average of about 10% of the market. This is despite the fact that Belarus ranks high in the world in terms of freshwater supply. The fishing industry development programs implemented over the past years have clearly had an impact. For example, many ponds that became shallow and overgrown with reeds were cleared, new processing plants were opened, production of valuable fish species revived and boosted. However, fish farming continues to be marginal in contrast to, for example, hog and poultry industries. The draft Agriculture Development Program in the Republic of Belarus for 2016-2020, with the fish farming subprogram, is currently under review. Will Belarus be able to ramp up fish production without increasing the number of farms? Will the industry be able to reduce production costs and, finally, become cost effective?
In Belarus and Around the World
Fish accounts for over 17% of the world consumption of animal protein. It is a source of omega-3 and omega- 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. According to the FAO, people have never eaten as much fish as they do today. In 2012 annual per capita fish consumption exceeded 19kg and continues to grow.
International experts argue that the interest in aquaculture, i.e. cultivation of fish in artificial conditions, will keep growing. According to estimates, by 2030 aquaculture will account for about two thirds of fish production. Fish resources of oceans and inland waters have reached the sustainability limit and are not likely to increase substantially. In terms of aquaculture the production of “economy class” freshwater species such as tilapia, carp and catfish is projected to increase the most while the production of more expensive salmon species will depend on the market capacity and the effectiveness of disease control of these fish.
China is the world’s leading producer of fish and fish products, accounting for about 18% of the world’s catch and more than 60% of the global aquaculture production. Other major manufacturers in Asia are Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, and Japan. Norway is the leader in Europe, Chile in the Americas. Large manufacturers also include Russia, the United States, and Peru.
In Belarus, the share of fish in the meat-to-fish ratio is decreasing, from 23% in 2005 to 14.3% in 2014. It is not the reduction in fish consumption that is to blame but rather the increase in meat consumption. The share of meat in human nutrition has risen from 62kg to 90kg per person per year. Fish consumption varies from 12.6kg to 18.6kg. By the way, according to the Health Ministry recommendations, the share should be between 16kg to 24kg depending on age and physique. It turns out that Belarus has almost reached the recommended levels and is on par with such countries as Germany, the United Kingdom and Finland, ahead of many countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Fish production in Belarus and in the world is mainly of two types: aquaculture and fisheries. Major fish farms in the country are specialized organizations such as open joint-stock companies whose controlling stakes are owned by the state and are under management of the Agriculture and Food Ministry. They account for about 85-89% of fish pond production.
The Belarusian market of fish products is divided into premiumand economy-class segments.
According to the Trade Ministry, a total of 68,700 tonnes of fish and fish products, including 8,100 tonnes of freshwater fish, was sold on the domestic market in 2015. It accounted for 11.8% of the total sales. The prevalence of oceanic and sea products is attributed to the abundance of raw materials and the versatile product range. The bulk of imports are dressed fish or fillets which are easier to cook. Moreover, they cost 15-30% less than domestic fish.
In the past the government had the exclusive right to import processed fish products. With the development of cooperation in the Eurasian Economic Union, this right was abolished on 1 January 2015.
Belarus’ export of live fish is insignificant. The structure of the fish industries in the neighboring countries is similar. Last year Belarus exported a total of 183,500 tonnes of fish, including 111,500 tonnes to Russia. The leading supplier is Experimental Fish Farm Selets. Other markets include, for instance, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Ukraine, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Poland, and Germany.
Fish is processed by 62 Belarusian companies, including 29 specialty firms of different types of ownership, seven fish-breeding farms, 26 district consumer societies which make part of the Belkoopsoyuz system. Their total annual output exceeds 80,000 tonnes of end products. According to the Agriculture and Food Ministry, ocean fish is the main source of raw materials for industrial processing. Freshwater fish accounts for only 10% of the total processing. The country’s fish farms do not import fish and work only with domestic products. In 2015 processed fish accounted for 19.8% of the total sales of domestic fish farms.
The companies sell processed fish abroad as well. The joint Belarusian-German company Santa Bremor is the country’s leading fish exporter.
Aquaculture accounts for 95% of the commercial fish production in the country. Pond fish farms make up the core of the sector. They run two- and three-year fish cultivation systems. They predominantly grow carp. Some 7-9 years ago carp accounted for 85-90% of the total production. Today this figure stands at 70%. Pond fish farms also grow herbivorous species such as grass carp, silver carp, bighead and their hybrids, as well as European catfish, pike, crucian carp, and tench in small amounts.
Carp is the most economically sound fish to grow. Its production makes up 1,200-1,500kg per hectare. Just to compare: the catch of silver carp and grass carp on equal areas is 300-500kg, that of catfish is 50kg and that of pike is only 20kg.
The joint production of two or more species of fish (polyculture) is the basis of modern pond fish farming in the country. It provides for the maximum use of the existing natural food potential of the pond thanks to fish that do not compete for resources. Specialists say that the polyculture often improves the food reserve for other species. For instance, glass carp eating top aquatic vegetation promotes the growth of microalgae which is the food for silver carp.