International Carp Conference highlights pond aquaculture’s role in Europe and beyond

by Thomas Jensen
2023 Carp Conference HU

Ecosystem services deserve greater attention

This article is featured in Eurofish Magazine 6 2023.

The sixth International Carp Conference, held in Szarvas, Hungary, was organised by leading carp farmers’ associations and is one of the most important events dedicated to enhancing European carp aquaculture. The members of the organising committee represent the most significant carp producing countries in Europe: Poland, Czechia, Hungary, Germany, Romania, Croatia, and a 2023 newcomer, Austria, represented by the Austrian Lake Fisheries and Aquaculture Association.

The first International Carp Conference was organised in 2011 by the Polish Fish Producers’ Association. After that the international organising committee decided to hold the event every two years in different countries. The decision to organise the next conference in Hungary was taken at the 2019 conference in Germany, but due to the COVID epidemic, it did not take place until 2023.

Healthy representation from European producers and international organisations

The sixth International Carp Conference was organized jointly by the Hungarian Aquaculture and Fisheries Inter-branch Organisation (MA-HAL) and the Research Center for Fisheries and Aquaculture of the Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences (MATE-HAKI) in Szarvas, Hungary between 30 August and 1 September 2023.

Over 110 participants from 17 countries represented the carp value chain at the two-day conference. They included farmers, fish feed producers, farmer’s associations, government representatives, NGOs, scientists, and several international organizations that play an eminent role in the development of European and global aquaculture as FAO, Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), European Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform (EATIP), European Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture Advisory Commission (EIFAAC), Eurofish International Organisation, and the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Central and Eastern Europe (NACEE). The conference was supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Hungary; Hungarian Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Platform (HUNATIP); Noack Magyarország Ltd. and other sponsors.

Carp farming needs to be more widely acknowledged

Although international recognition of carp production and pond farming in Europe has increased slightly over the past 15 years, this particular aquaculture sector still faces many challenges. Its visibility and recognition are not in proportion to the complex environmental, social and economic values that pond farming creates and sustains. This is why the motto of the 6th International Carp Conference was “Get the carp to its rightful place in aquaculture”. The focus of the conference was to strengthen the “carp segment” within European aquaculture; improve the image of carp as well as the recognition of pond aquaculture as our common European heritage; and to increase the European contribution to the development of global carp aquaculture exploring the opportunities offered by carp in “blue aquaculture”. The conference also aimed both to bring scientific results and European policies closer to the producers.

From left, Javier Ojeda, FEAP; Bernhard Feneis, VDBA; Béla Halasi-Kovács, MATE-HAKI; and David Basset, EATiP.
From left, Javier Ojeda, FEAP; Bernhard Feneis, VDBA; Béla Halasi-Kovács, MATE-HAKI; and David Basset, EATiP.

Opening speeches were provided by Mr. Gábor Csörgits, Head of the Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries Management representing the Ministry of Agriculture, Hungary; Mr. István Németh, president of MA-HAL, and Béla Halasi-Kovács, director of MATE-HAKI. They provided a review of Hungarian carp production; the challenges and opportunities faced by the sector; and its position vis a vis European and global carp production; as well as the status of research in the field. After the opening remarks a short video was presented entitled “The beauty of carp”.

Panel of internationally-recognised experts address the audience

Topics of the conference were interpreted and communicated both by keynote presentations and panel discussions, where the audience also received the opportunity to ask questions or provide their own views or experience on specific topics, and so actively participate in the discussions.

The speakers of the plenary session were internationally acknowledged experts in carp farming and related research. Mr Dong Zaijie from the Freshwater Fisheries Research Centre of the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences (FFRC-CAFS), delivered a comprehensive presentation on the history and current status of Chinese carp production. He introduced different carp culture systems implemented in China together with requirements and characteristics of the carp market and various products well-received by consumers. In his presentation Mr Dong highlighted that Chinese pond production faces many of the same challenges as European production, such as environmental issues and low income for producers. Mr Catalin Platon, president of National Association of Fish Producers, Romania (ROMFISH) provided a thorough overview of the history of carp production and current trends in Europe. He emphasised the importance of collaboration within the sector. Béla Halasi-Kovács, Director of MATE-HAKI, presented carp production in relation to the global aquaculture scene. He detailed the values, threats and potentials of carp aquaculture, emphasising the necessity of innovation along the whole value chain. Ana Gavrilovic representing EIFAAC talked about the role of her organization in European carp aquaculture. From Mr Nándor Puskás, CEO of Biharugra Fishfarm, Hungary, the audience also received information on specific aspects of sustainable extensive pond aquaculture seen from the position of a farm manager.

Five sessions address all the key issues facing the carp sector

Panel sessions played a key role in the programme. The five sessions led by acknowledged European aquaculture experts covered the main issues of carp farming: (1) Strengthening the role of Europe in global carp aquaculture led by Mr Javier Ojeda, (FEAP); (2) Pond aquaculture as European heritage, environmental benefits provided by pond aquaculture and discussion on possibilities to create awareness of the traditional pond aquaculture moderated by Mr László Váradi NACEE, HUNATiP); (3) Development of carp rearing systems and technologies through innovation along its value chain that was led by Mr David Basset (EATiP); (4) Future opportunities in carp genetics and breeding, moderated by Mr Marco Frederiksen (Eurofish); (5) Recent and future challenges on carp health and welfare, moderated by Mr Bernhard Feneis (VDBA). Questions from the moderator and participants were answered by recognised experts on a particular topic from Austria, China, Croatia, Czechia, Germany, Hungary, Malta, Moldova, Poland and Romania.

The conference provided a good opportunity for scientists to introduce their research results in the scientific poster session. After the official programmes there was time for informal professional discussions and networking, including the gala dinner, where traditional Hungarian carp foods were also served.

Consensus on the need for innovation to further development

Based on the discussions it was agreed by all that carp production should have a future as the species is very adaptive and pond culture has good potential to develop. Pond farming maintains a diverse ecosystem, contributes to enhance biodiversity connected to wetlands, and provides complex ecosystem services. Maintaining the volume of production from European ponds is the major responsibility of stakeholders, however innovation is necessary for further development. The participants also agreed that stronger collaboration in the sector and between stakeholders along the value chain, as well as better communication are also important to strengthen the role of carp aquaculture in Europe and globally.

On the second day of the conference, participants had the opportunity to visit the live carp gene bank and experimental infrastructure of HAKI. In connection with the Carp Conference, the 47th MA-HAL National Fish Cooking Festival, was organized by MA-HAL with a fish cooking competition, which was open to conference participants as well. Attendees were also invited on a sightseeing tour of Szarvas.

Concluding declaration offers a pan-European development strategy for carp

One of the most important outcomes of the International Carp Conference is the approved “Szarvas Declaration”. It provides the backbone of a strategy to develop the carp aquaculture sector at national and EU levels. The document, after an introductory part describing the recent situation, proposes to decision-makers and stakeholders the means that could be used to improve the position of the pond carp production sector in Europe. It emphasises that carp farming should be given its rightful place as a unique segment of European aquaculture that, in addition to the production of sustainable and healthy food, creates, maintains, and protects complex socio-economic and environmental values. Pond farming is in perfect harmony with circular Blue Bioeconomy and One Health concepts and contributes to the European Green Deal, the Blue Transformation of the FAO and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Recognition of pond carp farming can also be improved by its enrolment as a part of the FAO Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAAHS) and the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage System (ICHS). The full text of the Szarvas Declaration can be viewed on page 2 below.

Béla Halasi-Kovács,
Director, MATE-HAKI

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