Prof. Arkadiusz Wolos, head of the Department of Fishery Bioeconomics, Stanisław Sakowicz Inland Fisheries Institute.
The Polish aquaculture sector is overwhelmingly dominated by the production of common carp and trout. Insignificant volumes of other carps, sturgeons, and predatory species, such as catfishes, and pike, are also farmed.
Polish aquaculture can be broadly categorised into traditional extensive, that is, earthen ponds for the production of carp often in polyculture with other species; traditional intensive, which refers to the culture in raceways, typically of trout; and finally modern intensive. The latter implies the use of recirculation aquaculture systems used mainly for trout and stocking material in which the water is reused after being sent through a series of filters.
Carp ponds are beneficial for the environment
There are about 65,000 ha of carp ponds in Poland with a production of some 19,500 t of cyprinids (2014) of which 18,400 tonnes, or 94%, is common carp (Cyprinus carpio). Eurostat figures show that common carp production has remained stable since 2010 when it was 18,133 t. Fish ponds are usually built on agricultural land that is unsuitable for crop production. They may also contribute to the better management of water resources serving to accumulate water which can then be used in dry periods, and to regulate and mitigate the effects of flooding. Studies have also shown that fish ponds play a role in reducing the nutrient load of water from agricultural runoff and municipal centres. There are thus several benefits associated with pond farming. In addition, the presence of fish in the ponds, the rural surroundings, and the abundant water and vegetation in pond areas combine to act as a magnet for wildlife including birds and animals that prey on fish. While this wild fauna is generally regarded as beneficial for the environment, it can have a severe negative impact on fish production. Cormorants in particular pose a problem to fish farmers, one made worse by their status as a protected species, which means that farmers may generally only use non-lethal methods to prevent them preying on the fish. Shooting cormorants on ponds requires a special permit from the Regional Directorate of Environment Protection.
Carp ponds are characteristic of the central and southern parts of Poland where temperatures are milder and the water warmer. Productivity of the ponds is increased with the addition of other cyprinids (silver carp, grass carp, bighead carp, goldfish, and tench) as well as catfish and pike to make better use of the naturally occurring flora and fauna in the pond. The predatory species apart from being valuable in themselves also hold down the numbers of trash fish (species of no commercial value) in the ponds. Some farmers also supply additional feed in the form of cereals to increase yields (traditional semi-intensive). Feeding with cereals is expensive and as carp prices have stayed more or less the same, it is not low cost effective. The productivity of carp ponds varies widely. The average for Poland as a whole is about 370 kg, says Prof. Arkadiusz Wolos, head of the Department of Fishery Bioeconomics at the Stanisław Sakowicz Inland Fisheries Institute, but this includes ponds which are used for the production of stocking material or fry, where yield per ha is much lower. Some farms can achieve much higher yields with the use of supplementary feeds, good management practices, and thanks to favourable environmental conditions. Farms with fully integrated operation include smaller hatchery ponds for the production of larvae, as well as on-growing, and overwintering ponds. When the fish are one-season old they may either be sold to other farmers to stock their ponds or are grown further for the market.
Value-added carp products are slowly taking off
Carps typically have a two or three-year cycle to reach a market-sized fish depending on the climatic conditions. The colder the climate the longer the fish takes to grow to market size of 1.5 to 2.5 kg. Carps are traditionally sold live either at the farm gate or through retailers where the fish is kept in tanks. It is only traded on the domestic market and traditionally most carp is consumed around the Christmas period. Processed carp is becoming slightly more common in the form of filleted, deboned, smoked, or vacuum-packaged fish. Producers are aware that it will become more difficult to sell whole fish and that developing value-added products is necessary if sales of carp are to increase. As the number of working women increases they increasingly seek convenience. Consumers, by and large, are less willing to spend time on shopping for and preparing meals and look for easier solutions than whole live fish. Moreover, market surveys have shown that some consumers consider carp too bony, difficult to cook, and lacking in taste. Acknowledging this a carp farmers’ producer organisation is preparing a production plan that will include proposals to build small processing plants that would meet the market needs, says Lidia Kacalska-Bienkowska from the Department of Fisheries. Efforts to add value to the production are being officially encouraged. Applications seeking support through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), for example, will earn more points if they include measures to diversify production including the development of added-value products. Increasing the consumption of carp in Poland will also call for promotion campaigns that target both the general population, but specifically also kindergartens, schools, and institutions for young people. Over the years there have been several such campaigns in Poland and these need to continue and be developed further to ensure that carp maintains its popularity.
Trout production has grown rapidly
While carp has been farmed in Poland for centuries the other main farmed fish in Poland, rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), is a relative newcomer having been cultivated on a large scale in the 70s. Growth in the production of farmed trout has been rapid thanks to the ready acceptance on the domestic market, an export market across th
e border in Germany, the development of value-added products such as smoked fillets and modified atmosphere packaged (MAP) fish, but, perhaps most importantly the relatively short growing cycle. While it takes three years to produce a carp for the table it is only around 15 months for trout.
Trout is farmed both in raceways and in recirculation systems. Today there are over 200 trout farms in Poland the vast majority of which farm the fish in raceways. Estimates of production of all salmonids (rainbow trout, brook trout, Arctic char, etc.) vary from 15,200 t (Eurostat, 2014) to 16,100 t (Stanisław Sakowicz Inland Fisheries Institute) while the Polish Trout Breeders’ Association (PTBA) number is 17,000 to 18,000 t. Part of the discrepancy may be due to differences in the number of farms reporting their data, larger farms comply with data reporting requirements, while smaller farms may not. The PTBA also uses the volumes of feed purchased as a way to indirectly calculate production volumes and which may result in different figures. Production figures reported by the FAO show that production of rainbow trout increased consistently from the 70s until the beginning of the millennium, when it reached about 11,500 t, but have since then tended to fluctuate without a clearly discernible trend. Jacek Juchniewicz, president of the PTBA and a trout farmer himself says production of trout in Poland today is stagnating after peaking in 2005. Today there are about 200 traditional intensive trout farms, some 50 hatcheries, and a few modern intensive farms using recirculation systems.
|Inland fish production in Poland (2004-2015*)|
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Aquaculture strategy proposes raft of new measures
Efficient production is one part of the equation for a thriving trout industry. Among the sector’s strengths is the ability to adopt and adapt technological solutions such as recirculation systems. We cannot compete with countries where water flows at a rate of 10 cubic m per second and has a temperature of 11 degrees, notes Mr Juchniewicz. Our advantages lie in the quality of the education and training available, the qualifications of employees, the potential of the market, the availability of EU funds for investments, and our ability to deploy technology to create innovative solutions. Building on these assets the PTBA has formulated a long term strategy for the sector that has provided the basis for the Polish National Aquaculture Strategy 2014 to 2020. The strategy enumerates several ambitious goals including boosting the production and consumption of Polish farmed fish on the domestic market, and increasing the supply of Polish farmed fish to the processing sector. Some of these goals are a response to developments in the market that have affected the Polish industry. Trout used to have two main sales channels, half was sold as fresh fish on ice on the domestic market through supermarkets, fishmongers, and at the farm gate, while the other half went to processors, often German owned, for the production of smoked fillets destined for Germany.
Producers, processors should focus on the domestic market
This changed with the arrival on the German market of trout from Turkey. Processors in Poland responded by selling MA packaged trout through discount chains, which addressed one of the biggest problems concerning trout distribution, the availability of a high quality product in big cities. The issue was that the quality of fresh fish on ice sold at supermarkets was sometimes of dubious quality, while farms and small fishmongers were often difficult to access. The MAP product on the other hand was convenient, had a clear best-before date, a country of origin label, and sometimes also an easy-to-prepare recipe. Promotion campaigns by the PTBA and in-store promotions by the discount chains contributed to the popularity of the product. The national strategy reflects the fact that increasing sales on the domestic market is desirable as demand is less fickle than it is on export markets. Cultivating the domestic market will also remove the uncertainty of exchange rate and import pr
ice fluctuations providing producers with more stable conditions. Poland has possibly the largest fish processing industry Europe based to a large degree on fish imported from Norway, Denmark, China, the US and other countries. Processed products are exported to the rest of the EU as well as to third countries such as the US. Making the processing sector less dependent on imported raw material where availability can be difficult to predict by encouraging it to use more domestically-produced farmed fish is one of the key objectives of the strategy.
These objectives i.e. increasing the share on the domestic market of Polish fish farmed in intensive systems, and doubling the supply of this fish to the domestic processing industry, will be supported by another objective which is to promote the generic consumption of farmed fish. The goal is to increase the per capita consumption of fish by 2 kg to 14 kg by 2020.
Challenges to be overcome if strategy is to succeed
While these and the other objectives of the strategy (e.g. diversification of income streams by small farmers, focusing education on technology and innovation for the sector) are worthy goals to achieve, Mr Juchniewicz points to some of the barriers facing the sector that will need to be overcome if the sector is to achieve its objectives. One is the issue of water charges for fish farmers. Although it has now been decided to introduce only a nominal fee for the use of water the discussion included suggestions to set charges that would have effectively eradicated the industry. The industry needs the assurance that of low stable water charges if it is to continue to invest and expand. Veterinary regulations are another issue that are a thorn in the side of the PTBA as fish farms are not treated at par with other livestock farms and are not entitled to compensation if a stock contracts a disease and needs to be slaughtered to contain the spread. Another issue is a lack of suitably qualified graduates, a problem attributed to the declining interest in the field amongst young people.
Sturgeon – the newcomer on the Polish aquaculture scene
Carp and trout farming dominate aquaculture production in Poland, but entrepreneurs have been periodically experimenting with new species including tilapia, Atlantic salmon, and sturgeon. Of the three, sturgeon used to be in fact native to Poland and the Stanisław Sakowicz Inland Fisheries Institute has for some years worked on rehabilitating it in the wild, says Prof. Ryszard Kolman, head of the Department of Ichthyology at the institute. Work on breeding technologies started at the institute at the beginning of the 1990s. The breeding programme began with broodstock obtained from Russia including Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser baerii), hybrid sterlet (Acipenser ruthenus), beluga (Huso huso), bester (belgua x sterlet) and Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstadtii). The breeding was carried out in closed systems for the production of further generations of broodstock and of fry. Experiments at the institute have developed techniques to shorten the time between spawnings, a commercially desirable trait. The institute was also responsible for breeding the sturgeon Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus that was once native to the Baltic, and restocking the rivers Vistula, Oder and Warta. Over the programme period some 800,000 fish of various Baltic sturgeon stocking material have been released in the Vistula and Oder catchment areas. Depending on the age (and size) of the fish used for restocking they were equipped either with microchips or carlin tags in order to track them. Another group was equipped with telemetric transmitters that were used to follow the movements of the fish.
Sturgeon farming in Poland is primarily for commercial purposes to produce caviar and sturgeon meat. Today official sturgeon production in Poland is 472 tonnes, but unofficially the volumes are estimated at over 1,000 tonnes, while for caviar the figures are 1.9 t and 7 tonnes. The Polish market for sturgeon meat is one of the best in Europe, according to Antoni Lakomiak, a big sturgeon producer. In the west people are not familiar with the product, but in Poland thanks in part to culture and history as well as the efforts of Mr Lakomiak’s company, Gospodarstwo Rybackie Goslawice sp. z.o.o., to build a market for the meat, the price is good. But sturgeon is farmed primarily for caviar with the meat as a useful by-product. Worldwide farmed sturgeon caviar has brought a degree of stability in terms of quality, availability, and price to a market where all three fluctuated wildly. Caviar from capture fisheries was generally cheaper, but quality varied a lot and was usually worse than it is today. The fish were at different stages of maturation and so the caviar was of different qualities. Finally, as overfishing, habitat destruction, and pollution decimated sturgeon stocks, catches in the wild ceased altogether. Today CITES protection severely restricts the trade in wild sturgeon and caviar.
Can caviar end up like salmon?
Data from FAO show that global caviar production has been fairly stable for the decade up to 2012 averaging around 65 tonnes, but then jumped to 250 tonnes in 2013. Mr Lakomiak is confident that by 2020 caviar production worldwide will reach 500 t of which Europe will produce two fifths. As more caviar Is produced traders and farmers will need to devise ways to maintain caviar’s exclusive image yet at the same time widening the consumer base – a delicate balancing act. Mr Lakomiak’s caviar company, Antonius Caviar, sells different grades of caviar distinguished by a number of stars (from four to six, where six is the finest) at different prices. However, to attract new and more price-conscious consumers it is perhaps time to market farmed caviar not only for its taste and quality, but also for its health and environmental benefits. Today producers sell only a very small fraction of their caviar directly under their own brand, most is sold to traders who repackage the product under their own brand. Eliminating middle men would encourage producers to experiment more with prices and with marketing to different consumer segments. The growing supply of caviar is expected to expand the market yet at the same time put pressure on prices. Less efficient producers will be forced to adapt or risk becoming irrelevant. The caviar industry today resembles the Norwegian salmon industry 25 years ago, says Mr Lakomiak. It is hard to believe, but if he is right, in the next two decades or so caviar may become just another commodity.