Albania: Climate change impacts become ever more obvious

by Thomas Jensen
Professor R Bakiu

Global warming and climate change are increasingly affecting fisheries and aquaculture activities and while they may bring some advantages, they also create conditions to which farmers and fishers must adapt.

This issue was featured in Eurofish Magazine 5 2022.

Capture fisheries in ­Albania from the sea, along the coast, from inland waters, and coastal lagoons have remained largely stable over the five years to 2021, according to data from Institute of Statistics. Marine catches include some 45 species of fish, shellfish, and cephalopods and averaged about 6,000 tonnes over the five years to 2021.

Catches from marine, coastal, and inland waters, as well as lagoons

About a third of the catches can be attributed to just two species, European anchovy and deep-water rose shrimp. Catches of hake and pilchard are also significant while volumes of the remaining forty species are small. Catches along the coastline and in the coastal lagoons also contribute modestly to the Albanian capture fisheries. Inland waters yielded some 3,000 tonnes of fish per year on average over the same period, of which the proportion of carps (common, crucian, silver, bighead etc.) was close to 55%. Total yields showed a slight increasing trend over the period. Roaches, mullets, and perch were the other inland water species caught in significant volumes.

The Albanian fleet comprises trawlers, seiners, dredgers, gillnetters, and multipurpose ­vessels of which the gillnetters and trawlers dominate the fleet in terms of numbers. In contrast to most EU fleets the number of vessels has been increasing in Albania. Between 2017 and 2021 the fleet increased by over a third to 750 vessels thanks mainly to a 45% increase in the number of gillnetters to 525 vessels. The trawler fleet also increased from 157 to just under 200 vessels. The large-scale fleet (LSF) comprising vessels above 12 m fishes outside the 3 nautical mile limit targeting hake, shrimp, and red mullet. The demersal and pelagic fisheries for sardines and anchovy are managed with temporal restrictions. Two years ago, large vessels were equipped with vessel monitoring system (VMS) equipment so they can be monitored by fisheries inspectors. The individual species with the highest catches in 2021 were anchovy and deep-water rose shrimp which accounted for about a fifth and 16% of the total respectively. Anchovy catches fluctuated violently in the five years to 2021 from 1,500 tonnes in 2018 to 260 tonnes in 2020. Other important species in terms of catch weight were hake and pilchards. The total catch in 2021 was 6,300 tonnes. Fishers have also noticed the presence of species, both native and alien, not normally found in the areas being fished. In a survey conducted among small scale and recreational fishers by staff at the department of aquaculture and fisheries under the FAO Adriamed Project, respondents mentioned 75 species. Their presence could be explained by global warming and the data from the survey might help local communities better understand, manage, and adapt to the ongoing biotic transformations driven by climate change, says Dr Jerina Kolitari from the Aquaculture and Fishery Laboratory in Durrës. Climate change is not the only issue that fishers and fisheries managers have to contend with. Another is marine pollution which takes the form, among others, of microplastics and ghost gear. Through the laboratory in Durrës, Albania has participated in projects, such as DeFishGear, that aim to quantify and reduce the amount of marine litter in the sea and on beaches.

Manual control of small-scale fleet

The small-scale fleet (SSF) fishes within the 3 nautical mile limit and can be controlled when the fishers land their catch as well as at sea where the inspectors check the net dimensions, dimensions of the caught fish, the licenses, and the distance from the shore. Administrative measures taken against vessels found in breach of the regulations has created an awareness of the need to maintain the permitted depth and the ­correct distance from the coast and have prevented some illegal fishing, according to Dr Kolitari.

These measures are intended also to address the paucity of data on the SSF. In an article in the Croatian Journal of Fisheries, Prof. Rigers Bakiu, Head of the Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries, Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, Agricultural University of Tirana, and his co-authors show that the SSF in the Mediterranean uses many different gears, are active in different seasons and on different fishing grounds and target a variety of species. The Albanian SSF is responsible for about 5% of the total fisheries catch though over 60% of the number of vessels and 28% of the total employment in the fisheries sector. In their study which centred around vessels operating in southern Albania, the scientists established that essentially two types of gear, nets and longlines, were deployed by the fishers. With the former, fishers target hake, mullet, cuttlefish, and sole, while with the ­latter fishers target either the large pelagics like bluefin tuna and swordfish or seabreams, porgies, and groupers. The objective of the study was to generate data on the SSF, which are otherwise data deficient, and to use this information to create a clearer picture of the status of marine fisheries and thereby allow more reliable stock assessments. The authors also recommended “robust monitoring mechanisms and multiple control protocols” to reduce data uncertainty.

Steep increase in aquaculture production

Production from aquaculture has doubled from 4,000 tonnes in 2017 to 8,100 tonnes in 2021. The main species farmed in Albania are the marine species, seabass and seabream, as well as the freshwater species, rainbow trout. In addition, several carp species are farmed in polyculture with other freshwater species. Natural and artificial lakes, and reservoirs are used to cultivate these fish and farmers use intensive, semi-intensive, and extensive fish farming techniques. Finally, there is a cultivation of mussels at a couple of sites, one in the north of the country in the bay of Shengjin and the other in the Butrinti lagoon in the south. The main growth in the aquaculture sector comes from the production of seabass and seabream and of rainbow trout where companies from Italy and Turkey have invested in facilities in Albania. Reflecting the growth in production is a steep rise in the number of people employed in the sector which has gone from 2,800 in 2012-13 to 9,600 in 2021, says Frida Krifca, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. Now, however, in common with the sector in other parts of Europe, it is becoming more difficult to fill positions and farmers are starting to grumble about the lack of ­qualified labour. The lack of interest in fish farming could perhaps be attributed to the work itself which is physically demanding and the salaries that go with it. Young people would rather be working at a desk in a comfortable environment rather than be mucking around on a fish farm.


Fish farming faces diverse challenges

The shortfall in labour is one of the challenges facing the sector. Another is the implementation of allocated zones for aquaculture (AZA). According to the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), AZA are areas earmarked for the development of aquaculture, an activity which, within the zone, has priority over other uses. The identification and implementation of AZA is a ­priority for the ­sustainable development of aquaculture in the ­Mediterranean at a time when pressure from different interests on coastal zones are proving a bottleneck for the development of the aquaculture sector. AZA are expected to facilitate the integration of aquaculture into plans for coastal ­development and lead to improved coordination between the various authorities and other stakeholders in the area. In Albania the study to identify the AZA has been completed, says Arian Palluqi, Director, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and sea cages have to be moved 300 m away from the coast. The study was carried out by an Italian consultancy working in close collaboration with the ministry. Areas have been identified in Saranda and in Shengjin and for the cultivation of fish and of shellfish. The government has to approve the map of the different AZA which take into account the interests of the environment and the tourism sector. Although fish farming and tourism tend to compete for the same space, they also have common interests, Ms Krifca points out. For farmers tourists are a ready market for the fish they produce, while for tourists fish farms are not only a source of healthful and very fresh protein, but could also be an attraction to visit and learn about fish farming. Mr Palluqi is hopeful that the approval will be forthcoming later this year or early in 2023.

Adaptive measures are not always feasible

A long-term challenge to the aquaculture industry is the impact of global warming which is affecting both freshwater and marine production. Warming water, extreme weather events, a shortage of precipitation, the increased presence of invasive species, and algal blooms can be attributed to global warming. Other impacts include a reduction in the oxygen content of the water, and an increase in acidity as the water absorbs more carbon dioxide due to the increase in atmospheric concentrations of the gas. The FAO has identified the Mediterranean as a region where droughts are likely to be longer and more frequent, a development which is likely to affect the aquaculture sector. And while oceans are warming around the world, it is in the northern hemisphere that this is most obvious, reports the organisation. In Albania, trout farmers experience that as the water warms up the fish move deeper down the water column and if the surface gets too warm they are reluctant to even come up to feed. For mussel farmers too increasing water temperatures can have an impact on the production as the Mediterranean mussel can tolerate temperatures of up to about 23 degrees centigrade. If it gets any warmer they will start to perish, says Tonin Suli who farms mussels in the Shengjin bay. For fish grown at sites where the water is deep the animals can avoid the higher temperatures at the surface by migrating to cooler depths. Mussels too could be suspended from ropes that extend deeper into the water column. While these adaptations may be feasible at some sites it may not be an option in shallower waters or where higher temperatures have caused water levels to drop. Farmer using such sites will therefore have to devise other solutions.

Some marine animals more vulnerable to warming than others

Warming does not affect all species equally. Prof. Bakiu says that European seabass is more affected than gilthead seabream, the two main marine species farmed in Albania. Farmers are increasingly producing seabream exclusively as it can better tolerate the increase in temperature and the heatwaves that cause oxygen levels in the water to fall. Moreover, seabass seems to be more vulnerable to the diseases related to the changing ­temperature, he notes. In a paper in the Albanian Journal of Agricultural Science from 2021 Prof. Bakiu and a colleague looked at the impact of climate change on the abundance and catch of seabass and seabream in Albanian water and stated that temperature and salinity have significant effects on growth and feed intake of juvenile seabass. The species showed a preference for lower temperatures in comparison to seabream which thrived at higher temperatures. This suggests that seabream could become more abundant than seabass in Albanian waters as the temperature increases.

Invasive organisms, extreme heat, and drought are among the stressors of farmed fish

Invasive species that establish themselves in response to warming can also be a threat to the aquaculture industry. Prof. Bakiu mentions the pumpkinseed fish (Lepomis gibbosus) that has invaded the Dumrea lakes near Elbasan and feeds on the larvae and fingerlings of the carp species, common carp, bighead carp, grass carp etc., that farmers are cultivating in the lakes. Sudden extreme heat can also lead to a rapid drop in the oxygen content of the water which can cause mass fish deaths. Fish farmers are trying to adapt by reducing the biomass they hold to facilitate the management of the production, says Prof. Bakiu. He, together with colleagues from the department of aquaculture and fisheries at the university, is conducting a survey of freshwater fish farmers to understand their situation and the threats and challenges they face. The survey will also identify and help to regularise operators who may be behind on their paperwork. This will allow the government to channel aid to the farmers with which they can invest in aerators or oxygen as a way of adapting to climate change.

Capture fisheries affected by alien species

Climate change also has an impact on the fishing sector. For fishers too one of the threats from warming water comes from the migration of non-native species to ­Albanian waters in the Ionian Sea. Prof. Bakiu reported the presence of a lionfish (Pterois miles) in June last year. Recorded for the first time in Albanian waters the species is native to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. It has colonised Greek waters where it is reputed to be a threat to commercially important or critically endangered species, according to a paper in a book Lionfish Invasion and its Management in the Mediterranean Sea published by the Turkish Marine Research Foundation. According to Prof. Bakiu it feeds on larvae as well as juveniles of species native to Albanian waters and although it is a valuable species for fishers and charismatic for divers, it needs to be treated with care as its spines are poisonous. He expects it to establish a population in Albanian waters in the next 2-3 years as it moves from the south of the country to the north.

The challenges presented by climate change are only likely to increase in the future. The way towards safeguarding fisheries and increasing resilience is by the effective and sustainable management of resources. Albania has embarked on this path and is making progress towards these objectives.

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