- Capital: Budapest
- Population: 9,7 million (2021, Eurostat)
- GDP: €136,6 billion (2020, Eurostat)
- GDP/capita: €14 010 (2020, Eurostat)
Overview of the Hungarian fisheries and aquaculture sector
Being a landlocked country, Hungary does not have a marine fishing fleet, and it also stopped commercial fishing on its inland waters beginning 1 January 2016. As a result, the bulk of the domestic fish supply comes from aquaculture. A lesser amount is represented by selective fishing for ecological purposes (i.e. culling of nuisance fish), whose catches can be sold on the market accompanied by a catch certificate. However, this amount represents only 1% of the total natural-water catch. The bulk of the volume harvested from natural waters is caught by recreational fishermen. The catch goes for consumption at home and is taken into account in fish consumption statistics. Hungary had about 770 000 registered anglers in 2020 and their total catch amounted to 5 081 tonnes.
Associations of recreational fishermen play an important role in the management of fishing waters. There are 2 250 registered fishing areas in Hungary with a total area of 162 539 hectares. The fishing rights for most of these areas belong to the State and are leased out with long-term contracts. As the priority is given to angling-oriented fisheries management, the majority of these areas are leased by the National Federation of Hungarian Anglers (MOHOSZ) and its member associations. The fisheries management activities (e.g., restocking, control, exploitation, etc.) of the holders of fishing rights must be based on a fisheries management plan approved by the fisheries authority. Anglers are among the most important customers of the aquaculture sector (as the fish for restocking is produced in aquaculture), and their demand for certain native species (mostly bream and predatory fishes) is an important driving force behind the development of rearing techniques in aquaculture.
Aquaculture in Hungary has a long history, going back in time as far as the Middle Ages. A book on fish ponds by Jan Dubravius (1547) praises the fish ponds of the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490), specifically mentioning the fish pond of Tata (which is operational even nowadays). Still, medieval aquaculture was mostly limited to monasteries and the nobles’ courts. It was only after the regulation of the rivers in the 19th century, which ended the previous legendary fish richness of Hungary, that the development of modern aquaculture started.
In the past decade Hungary’s aquaculture production for human consumption has been showing a moderate growth of average 3.1% annually. The production in 2020 reached 18 374 tonnes worth 34.3 million euros, and was produced by 382 enterprises in 444 sites. Same year the sector employed 1 237 persons on the full-time basis, with 1 035 men and 202 women. Part time employment amounted to 177 persons (134 men and 43 women), and temporary/casual employment totalled 25 340 person-days (21 347 men and 3 993 women.
Pond aquaculture dominates the production, delivering an average of about 80% of the total volumes annually. Fish is traditionally produced semi-intensively in earthen ponds, rearing several species, mostly common carp (Cyprinus carpio), silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus) and predatory species (wels catfish (Silurus glanis), pike (Esox lucius), pike-perch (Sander lucioperca)) together in polyculture in order to better utilise the natural food resources. Supplementary feeding is done with cereals, and thus, this type of aquaculture is not dependent on the fish meal and fish oil supply. Common carp is still the most important cultured species (about 65% of the total food fish production). The typical production cycle of common carp lasts three years, although technologies are available for a shorter-cycle production.
A growing subsector of aquaculture is intensive fish farming. The most important intensively reared species is African catfish (Clarias gariepinus), of which Hungary is the biggest producer in Europe, having increased its production from virtually zero to over 3 800 tonnes in twenty years. Other species in intensive systems are sturgeons (Acipenser spp.) (mostly for caviar production) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), but there is a growing interest towards intensive rearing of valuable indigenous predatory species (wels catfish, pike, pike-perch) as well.
Processing and trade
No official data are available on the output from the fish processing sector in Hungary. Development of the national statistical data collection program, which would cover the volume and value of both the inputs and outputs, is regarded as an important task but no significant progress has been seen yet. In 2021 there were 35 companies whose profile is primarily fish processing, and there are several more companies which combine fish farming with on-site processing. The most recent and detailed evaluation of the country’s fish processing sector was made in 2019 by the Research Institute for Agricultural Economics. According to the conducted survey, the volumes of processed products reached about 7 000 tonnes in 2018, of which 5 500 tonnes was produced from domestic raw material. Over half of the 24 enterprises which participated in the survey stated that they process domestic fish only, and 12 of them do only primary processing. African catfish is the largest processed species with 65% of the total volume, common carp accounting for 20%, and bighead and silver carps for 8%, while the remaining 7% belonged to grass carp, breams, Prussian carp, pike-perch, wels catfish, pike, and others. The major share of primary processed products includes fresh whole fish and fresh fillets, while the smaller share belongs to frozen fish and fillets. In general, fresh fish and fillets make up the largest product group with 60% of the total output of the processing sector. Secondary (final) processing activity involves 8% of the total number of enterprises, and they produce smoked and frozen products. Over 40% of the companies have mixed profiles, combining both primary and secondary processing.
Hungary is a net importer of fish and seafood products. On average, about 74% of the total supply volumes are imported. In 2020 import volumes reached 25.9 thousand tonnes valued at 107.3 million euros. Prepared and preserved fish made up the largest product group with a 53% share of the volume, followed by fillets (either fresh or frozen) with 20%, and whole frozen fish (except fillets) with a 12% share. Atlantic salmon and to a lesser extent rainbow trout dominated the whole-fresh group, while hake was the largest whole-frozen species. Up to 90% of the imported volumes of fish and seafood originate from EU countries, mainly Poland, Germany, Spain, Czech Republic, and Italy in 2020.
During the past several years exports of fishery and aquaculture products from Hungary have been slightly declining, showing an average 6.1% decrease annually. Exports in 2020 totalled 7.02 thousand tonnes worth 14.4 million euros. Live fish, primarily carp, is traditionally the largest export item with an average share of over 70% of the total volumes, amounting in 2020 to 5 991 tonnes. Romania is the largest market for Hungary’s live fish, absorbing over half of the volumes, while Croatia and Germany were two other important destinations.
In the past decade fish consumption in Hungary has been increasing, but still remains one of the lowest per capita levels in Europe. According to Eurobarometer data, about one third of the consumers never buy fisheries and aquaculture products. Per capita fish consumption in 2019 was 6.45 kg (live weight), which is about a quarter of the EU average. About 80% of the consumed fish and seafood come from imports (mostly marine fish).
On the other hand, Hungary’s per capita consumption of common carp (1.2 kg) is the highest in the EU. While fish consumption is still mostly seasonal (up to 40% of the total annual fish consumption takes place during the Christmas period), the development of fish processing and the large fish product range of the international retail chains have helped to increase demand at other times of the year as well. Another important factor has been the fish promotion campaigns launched by both the government and the farmers. In addition to an EMFF-supported campaign promoting fish consumption, the Hungarian Aquaculture and Fisheries Inter-branch Organisation (MA-HAL) also organizes several fish cooking and fish tasting events throughout the year (many of them are also supported by the government). The government also puts much effort into raising consumer trust in the quality of fish products, e.g., with quality awards, certification marks and geographical indications.
The aquaculture sector of Hungary faces several challenges, including a workforce shortage, the need for sustainable intensification of fish production, low profitability of fish farms, inadequate water efficiency, and detrimental environmental impacts of fish farms. In addition, there is a need to better recognize the ecosystem services provided by fish ponds, coping with the damage caused by fish-eating animals and the risk of Koi Herpes Virus. To achieve a higher level of fish consumption, it is important to increase the range of processed products, to improve traceability and to increase consumer trust, but it is also necessary to increase the profitability and competitiveness of the fish processing sector.
Useful Links for Hunary
• Fisheries and Aquaculture Website of the Hungarian Government
• Ministry of Agriculture
• Hungarian Aquaculture and Fisheries Inter-branch Organisation
• National Federation of Hungarian Anglers
• National Agricultural Research and Innovation Centre, Research Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture
• Research Institute of Agricultural Economics
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