Production from fish farming in Lithuania is set to become much bigger over the next seven years as the national strategic plan is implemented. The plan includes measures for production, value addition, sustainability, as well as fish health and welfare among other objectives and should lead to a more competitive and resilient sector.
The EU is one of the largest markets for seafood and among the top traders of fish and seafood products in the world. However, the bloc is heavily dependent on imports of fish and seafood as domestic production is insufficient to meet demand. The 2022 edition of the Finfish Study, an annual publication produced by AIPCE-CEP, reckons that the EU’s import dependence on fish and seafood in 2021 was above 65%. Since production from capture fisheries is flat or declining the EU aquaculture sector has a significant role to play in reducing the bloc’s dependence on imports by increasing the supply of farmed fish.
EU aquaculture production lags the world
Currently, while a quarter of all seafood products consumed in the EU comes from aquaculture, only a tenth comes from domestic production suggesting there is ample scope for growth. Boosting aquaculture production also meets the objectives of other EU initiatives such as the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy. At the same time, fish farming can contribute to the production of healthful food with a low carbon footprint, generate livelihoods in remote coastal and inland areas, and pioneer innovative and creative technologies to increase productivity in the sector. However, while aquaculture production in other parts of the world has increased by a factor of four since 1990, in the EU it went up by 11% and declined 8% since 2018, according to the latest STECF report on EU aquaculture.
In a bid to reverse this as well as to achieve the goals mentioned above, in 2021 the EU adopted new strategic guidelines for the aquaculture sector. The guidelines have four overlapping objectives
• building resilience and competitiveness
• participating in the green transition
• ensuring social acceptance and consumer information, and
• increasing knowledge and innovation
and include proposals for specific actions regarding, for example, access to space inland and along coasts, animal welfare, sustainability, and improvements to the regulatory and administrative frameworks. The strategic guidelines have been integrated into countries’ national strategic plans, the implementation of which is supported by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFAF) and other funding programmes. A further instrument, the Aquaculture Assistance Mechanism (AAM), also supports the Member States in the implementation of the strategic guidelines by providing logistical, administrative, and technical assistance. The AAM (https://aquaculture.ec.europa.eu/) is a platform for collecting and sharing information about sustainable aquaculture in the EU, and it develops training and e-learning tools, as well as organising events, and responding to questions from Member States and aquaculture stakeholders on the guidance documents developed.
Production from RAS increases sharply
Production from the aquaculture sector in Lithuania consists of ponds, tanks and raceways, and recirculation aquaculture systems. While production from ponds has remained largely stable in the five years to 2022 (though there was a spike in 2021) production from recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS) increased more than three times over the same period reaching almost 25% of total aquaculture production in 2022. Output from tanks and raceways accounted for less than 2.5% of the total that year. Production is thus dominated by fish from pond aquaculture and specifically by common carp which on average accounted for over 70% of total aquaculture production during the last five years. However, the share of carp production decreased from around 80% in 2018 to 62% in 2022. Another species, African catfish, accounted for a fifth of the production in 2022 up from 6% in 2018. The total value of Lithuanian aquaculture production destined for consumption has risen steadily in the 2018-2022 period from EUR11 million in 2018 to 18 million in 2022, a 64% increase. The value of African catfish production (excluding hatcheries and nurseries) shows the greatest development—from EUR0.9 million to EUR3 million (an increase of 233%) over the same period. However, the average price for African catfish in the 2018-2022 period declined from EUR4.23/kg to EUR3.45/kg, mostly due to increased supply and competition.
Lithuania’s multi-annual national strategic plan for the development of sustainable aquaculture for the period 2021 to 2030 has ambitious targets. Production volume is to almost double from 4,400 tonnes in 2022 to 8,500 tonnes in 2030, while value is to increase to EUR27 million from almost EUR13 million. The investments needed to bring about this growth will be supported by the EMFAF if they are intended to achieve one or more of the objectives mentioned in the national strategic plan. Ieva Zundiene, Director of the Fisheries Department in the Ministry of Agriculture, points to investments in innovative equipment to enhance capacities, modernise and increase efficiency at fish farms, and in projects that benefit farms by developing closer cooperation between the farmers and scientists, as examples where support from the EMFAF can be expected.
Using the EMFAF to boost organic fish production
Organic aquaculture is also eligible, and the Lithuanian strategic plan foresees production from organic aquaculture reaching 1,200 tonnes in 2030 up from 860 tonnes in 2020. The focus on organic aquaculture is because its responsible use of energy and resources aligns with EU strategies, and the European Commission is therefore encouraging Member States to increase organic production. An action plan to accelerate the development of organic aquaculture was launched in 2021 that emphasises the importance of communicating the benefits of organic production in the form of high-quality food produced with lower environmental impacts and higher animal welfare-issues that consumers are increasingly concerned about. The action plan also encourages local and small-scale fish processing to ensure efficient supply chains for organic products. EU promotion campaigns for organic production as well as actions to improve traceability or fight illegal practices are also part of the action plan. Another feature is the promotion of increased use of organic products in public canteens and schools.
Lithuania is among the main producers of organic carp in the EU, but the volumes are relatively small. Currently, however, organic carp is bought from the producers at a lower price than could be expected of organic production or at a similar price to non-organic production, and Ms Zundiene is keen to call a meeting with representatives from the retail sector to discuss why this is the case and what can be done about it. In general, organic production is foreseen to be compensated at the rate of EUR 0.80 per kilo sold. The idea of the support is to help the farmers with the increased cost of raw inputs and to maintain the price within range of consumers’ budgets. Once consumers get accustomed to eating organic fish and they may be willing to pay for it even if the support is phased out.
Recirculating aquaculture systems are key to achieving production and value targets
Growth in the sector is foreseen to come mainly from RAS systems—to produce more high value species—and from greater productivity from existing pond farms growing fish in polyculture. No new pond areas are envisaged nor is marine farming in the Baltic Sea being considered due to the already delicate state of its environment. Adaptation and mitigation measures in relation to climate change, the second objective of the strategic guidelines, include measures to reduce pollution, foster innovation, improve energy efficiency and promote the use of sustainable energy. Both fish farming and processing companies are investing in solar power to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, the price of which shot up last winter. Support from the EMFAF is available for the switch to renewable energy, but most companies will depend on a mix of energy sources as they will not be able to generate enough solar power to cover all their energy needs. Emissions from production and transport are also to be reduced and the mitigation potential of pond aquaculture is to be better exploited. This method of farming contributes to biodiversity, flood control, and preservation of wetlands among other collateral benefits. Climate change impacts in the short term can cause loss of production due to extreme weather events such as droughts or floods, the occurrence of algal blooms, and appearance of new pathogens and parasites, states an Aquaculture Advisory Council report. Global warming, ocean acidification, sea level rises, and changes in patterns of precipitation are expected to influence aquaculture production in the long term. Including adaptation and mitigation measures in the strategic plan is a step towards managing these issues. The report suggests that adaptation to climate change may also offer opportunities such as diversification into lower trophic level species and into integrated multitrophic aquaculture (IMTA). Adaptation strategies could also include improved biosecurity on the farm and selective breeding to add to the resilience of the sector. In terms of mitigation, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from upstream and downstream activities along the supply chain and in particular the use of lower carbon raw materials for aquafeed will be critical to these efforts.
In keeping with the third objective on social acceptance and consumer information, the plan calls for EU-recognised aquaculture producer organisation (PO) to be established. Among the obligations of these bodies is the creation and implementation of production and marketing schedules, the details of which include how the PO will meet certain goals such as sustainability, traceability, etc. The plan also recommends aquaculture companies and associations to present their products and achievements at international and local exhibitions and fairs. Currently the national fish and aquaculture producers’ association operates as an aquaculture PO in Lithuania implementing a production and marketing plan with the above-
Strategic plan to be funded through EMFAF, national budget
The plan also mentions control, environmental performance, animal welfare, and knowledge and innovation with several measures under each point. For example, developing food quality schemes, breeding fish for restocking of natural water bodies, developing good practices with regard to farming, transport, and slaughter, and promoting the use of innovative technology such as RAS to breed fish are among the measures. These initiatives as well as those mentioned above will be funded through the EMFAF and the national budget; other funding possibilities include the European Rural Development Fund, the European Regional Development Fund, and the Horizon Europe programme (for research and innovation).
Although aquaculture in Lithuania is still dominated by the production of common carp, output of valuable fish species such as African catfish, rainbow trout, and eel from RAS systems shows an increasing tendency. Another trend is vertical integration, where farmers invest in processing facilities to add value to their production. Currently about half of the fish producers process their production. Value is added to products by preparing consumer-friendly portions (steaks, fillets, portions) packaged in MAP or vacuum thereby increasing the shelf life. Hot and cold smoking, attractive packaging, quality labels and brands, and sales through supermarket chains or speciality stores also add value to the products. There is further scope to diversify sources of income by launching catering operations and by direct sales to consumers. Most of the aquaculture production (86% in 2021) is sold on the domestic market while Latvia and Poland are the main export markets. Exports to Poland have declined with the restrictions on sales of live fish, one of the main export products. Employment in the sector has remained largely stable hovering around 430 employees for the five years to 2022. There is, however, a shortage of employees with the specialised skills needed for the sector to develop, such as aquaculture technology engineers and veterinarians specialised in fish diseases. To try and remedy this, a programme, Farmed in the EU, is introducing the sector to school children that may lead to more of them choosing a career in fish farming. A project offering free-of-charge testing of farmed fish for diseases at the National Food and Veterinary Risk Assessment Institute will continue for five years from 2023. Under this project fish farmers can send samples to be tested for a variety of pathogens secure in the knowledge that the results will be kept confidential. The project started with the acquisition of the necessary diagnostic equipment by the institute and while it covers the testing it does not extend to the treatment of the disease, which farmers must defray themselves.
Implementing the provisions of its national strategic plan for aquaculture should create a sustainable, competitive, resilient and diversified sector in Lithuania that contributes to nutritional and economic security.