Romania: Applying science in support of fish farmers

by Thomas Jensen
Nucet celebrated 80 years

Stakeholders celebrate eight decades of Romanian aquaculture research at Nucet.

This article was featured in Eurofish Magazine 6 2022.

Aquaculture research has always been the central pillar for aquatic food farming development everywhere. Anniversaries of research institutions serve to acknowledge their contribution to the field, sum up what has been achieved, and identify future challenges that call for science-based answers.

The Nucet Fish Farming Research Centre in ­Romania, one of the region’s oldest freshwater fish farming research institutions and the backbone of the carps and associated species farming development for eight decades, celebrated its 80th anniversary in September this year.

Research started with restocking efforts

Maintaining wild fish stocks to allow a sustainable pattern of exploitation through commercial fishing has been a concern of modern societies since the industrial revolution. Growing populations and increased demand for food resources was mainly tackled using two approaches: an administrative one through establishing fishing management rules, and the second, by developing aquaculture. The latter started with the establishment of experimental fish farming institutions to conduct fish farming, research to supply the stocking material for natural waters and for fish farms, and to provide the know-how for the systematic development of fish farming. One of the first institutions of this kind was established in France, in 1852, at Huningue. The model was reproduced all over Europe over the next decades. As a result of the continuous joint efforts of the scientific community, institutions, administrative bodies, and investors, 2014 was the first year when aquaculture production (including aquatic plants) overtook capture fisheries, according to FAO1.

Romania, even if has access to 254 km of the Black Sea shoreline, is historically defined as a freshwater aquaculture country. The first reference to the model experimental freshwater fish farms was in the 1896 Fishing Law written by the well-known ichthyologist Grigore Antipa after being awarded a summa cum laude Ph.D. at Jena University (Germany) by the famous zoologist Ernst Haeckel, the first to define “ecology”. The plans to develop a consistent and science-based fish farming sector in Romania were based upon the development of educational, institutional, and research infrastructure. As a result, between 1919 and 1940 vocational schools, fish farming-oriented university curricula, and various research establishments focused on different parts of Romanian fisheries and aquaculture: the Danube Delta, the Black Sea, trout farming, and carp farming. Initially, fish farming research and development was a part of the National ­Animal Husbandry ­Institute which was founded in 1926 under the coordination of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. The Nucet Fish Farming Research Establishment was built between 1937 and 1941 and became part of the Romanian Fisheries Research Institute, which was founded in 1940, as a recognition of the importance of aquaculture to the ­Romanian economy.

Breeding young fish for domestic and ­international use

From the beginning, the main purpose of the research activity was to find ways to farm carp, to control fish reproduction, and to select certain productive traits. In 1960, the Nucet research team started, and succeeded a few years later, to acclimatise grass carp, silver carp, bighead carp, and black carp which contributed to the development of carp polyculture technologies. This was a step forward in common carp farming technology which allowed the Romanian fish farming sector to reach the highest production figures by the middle of the ‘80s. Even today, Nucet Fish Farming Research Centre is one of the main suppliers of Chinese carp larvae and fingerlings, not only to the domestic market but also to neighbouring countries. Various innovations and technological improvements on the controlled reproduction of fish were tried and confirmed here during the years, which inspired the researchers to aim higher. That is how the scientists ­managed to acclimatise and breed in controlled conditions the paddlefish, the American ­sturgeon, at the beginning of the ‘90s. This fish was soon demanded by fish farmers due to its tremendous growth rate and its role in phytoplankton control in carp ponds. Even if trials for controlled reproduction of paddlefish were done in several European countries, Nucet Fish Farming Research Centre was the only one that completed the full technological setup for this species, becoming the third biggest brood stock owner in the world following the USA and China.

For more than 30 years Nucet Fish Farming Research Center has been scientifically coordinated and partially financed by the ­Romanian Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences „Gheorghe Ionescu-Şişeşti“. At the anniversary ­celebration event the academy was represented by its president Prof. Valeriu Tabără. Among the others who participated were fish farmers, scientists, former directors of the research unit, members of the Romanian Parliament, local authorities, staff from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and fish farmers’ associations. In his intervention, Professor Tabără emphasised that a research unit was the epitome of research and development activity as it had to deliver substantial results for the economic activity of fish farms. Ms Mioara Costache, the current director of the institution joined Nucet Fish Farming Research Center in 1987 as a fresh graduate from Galaţi University and has held her position since 2001 guiding the organisation through the hectic transition period which followed the political changes of 1989.

New products and ­services are developed and offered to farmers

Now, she declared, work at the centre is coupled both to ­European trends and to ­Romanian farmers’ needs for applied research activity, but also to the interests of the researchers themselves: “The development strategy for our institution is to find solutions to the challenges which the fish farmers are confronted with. One of the major objectives of the strategic guidelines for a more sustainable and competitive EU aquaculture for the period 2021 to 2030, adopted last year by the Commission is to increase knowledge and innovation. In this respect, we are looking to scientifically underpin the ecosystem services contribution of certain types of fish farming, and to deliver stocking material for the restocking of fish farms and wild habitats. In the last decade in the fish farming sector, the increase in the average age of farmers has become obvious. This would not be so damaging if more young farmers were entering the activity. More and more fish farms are owned by non-professionals who do not know very much about fish farming but are keen to learn. The negative impact of these changes is mitigated by the stability offered by an applied research institution like ours. EMFF support was used to set up management, relief, and advisory services for aquaculture farms which also cover various aspects of fish farm’s regular activities such as developing technical, scientific, or organisational knowledge on aquaculture farms. This could reduce the impact on the environment, foster the sustainable use of resources in aquaculture, improve animal welfare, and facilitate new sustainable production methods. Continuing our tradition of developing new aquaculture species with good market potential, new or substantially improved products, and novel or improved technologies, while exploring their ­technical or economic feasibility is something we are interested in.

As a consequence of the close cooperation and dialogue we maintain with the farmers, in 2020 we have written and published, with the support of EMFF funding, the ”Good Practice Guide for Fish Farming”.

The impact of climate change on the production cycle and thus on the economic performance of the sector and also on fish welfare, especially on pathologies, are things we are very attentive to. We are considering working on the early detection, prevention, and control of aquatic diseases that are not listed in EU legislation, but that have a significant impact at the farm level. In this context we plan to develop guidelines and procedures for good practice. From our point of view, farmed fish welfare means abiding by the technical guidelines and any upgrades made by applied research. Our advisory services include diagnosis and recommendations for the best available methods or products to solve the identified problem.

Pond farming plays an important role in ­conserving biodiversity

There is a need for consistent research activity on the different types of aquaculture technologies. Our focus is on earthen ponds and on farming common carp and associated species in Central and Eastern Europe, which not only provide food security but also a cultural reference, in addition to their contribution to recent European policies and strategies, such as Farm to Fork, Biodiversity Strategy, and carbon and nutrients sequestration. As for biodiversity, not only in Romania but all over Central and Eastern Europe, Natura 2000 Directives were first applied to carp ponds which met all the designation criteria as a recognition that traditional practices employed in this type of aquaculture have been beneficial for biodiversity. Without fish farming in different types of ponds, a threat that hangs over the sector as it did in the 19th century, the biodiversity index will collapse. We will focus our future activity on identifying and assigning values to ecosystem services in the pond farming sector to support political decisions which could finally unify the currently divergent approaches between agricultural policies and aquaculture ones. The contribution of research and technological development to aquaculture development can be summed up as a dissemination platform, a place of dialogue, a place of mutual knowledge transfer, not only from the research to the industry, but also from the farmers to the scientific community.”

The combination of crises coming out of the blue and dramatically challenging our daily routines with ambitious long-term goals, aquaculture research is called to deliver answers to provide the farmers with tools and knowledge to build up resilience. Some of the answers to these challenges are new for sure, but others could be found in history or in traditional practices that have passed the test of time. It is up to the decision-makers to bolster aquaculture research which is performed in partnership with farmers and especially performed in cross-borders consortia, speeding up the dissemination of ideas, technologies and knowledge.

Catalin Platon
Romanian Fish Farmers Association

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