Romanian fish and shellfish farming in the Black Sea could soon become a reality

by Thomas Jensen
Michael Leonov, State Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development

Legislative frameworks falling into place

This article was featured in Eurofish Magazine 3 2023.

Romanian entrepreneurs have long tried to farm shellfish in the Black Sea, but the activity has failed to get off the ground due to a lack of the relevant rules and regulations. This may finally be changing, potentially opening the doors not only to mussel farming but also to the on-growing of rainbow trout, an industry that is flourishing in Turkish Black Sea waters.

The fisheries sector in ­Romania includes production from both aquaculture and from capture in the Black Sea and inland waters. The latest FAO statistics refer to the year 2021 and reveal that aquaculture production in Romania declined by 9% since 2019 reaching 11,714 tonnes. Of the five main species (with a production of around 1,000 tonnes or more) four are carps, common, bighead, silver, and crucian, while the fifth is rainbow trout. The latter is the only species production of which has grown consistently over the three years to 2021. Trout is also the second-most produced species after common carp. If trends in production of common carp and of trout continue as they have, it is only a question of a couple of years before rainbow trout output exceeds that of common carp. Bighead carp production increased slightly in 2021, but is still 13% below its level in 2019, while silver carp volumes have also fluctuated falling 18% in 2021 compared to the year before. Minor volumes (less than 200 tonnes) of grass carp, catfish, sturgeon, and paddlefish were also produced in 2021.

Farmed and wild production could benefit from proposed split in fisheries law

Capture fisheries production comes from the Black Sea and inland waters, the Danube in particular. Catches of the marine snail Rapana venosa accounted for over 40% of the total capture production in 2021. Production of this mollusc however has fallen by 63% since 2018. Goldfish (Carassius auratus) and pontic shad (Alosa immaculata) are significant species in terms of captures, but they too have declined in volumes since 2019. Total capture production has fallen 43% over the last three years. Michael Leonov, State Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development says an increase in production and profits could lead from the splitting of the fisheries law into a fisheries law and an aquaculture law. The division was made to clarify specific regulations for each activity and to ensure more efficient and precise management of these activities. The adoption of these laws is expected to increase transparency and effectiveness in regulating fishing and aquaculture activities. These outcomes are expected to lead to better protection of aquatic resources and the ­environment, as well as better management of fishing and aquaculture activities in accordance with international standards. However, he adds, to ensure that these benefits are realized, there must be adequate implementation and continuous monitoring of compliance with these laws. The laws are currently under discussion and analysis in the Romanian Parliament and will be adopted after the proposed amendments and modifications are taken into account and subjected to a final vote in ­Parliament.

Marian Avram, the president of ANPA, the National Agency for Fisheries and Aquaculture, prioritises the development of aquaculture partly to reduce pressure on wild stocks. Although fishing capacity in Romania is among the lowest in the EU it is unlikely to increase although he thinks the status of the stocks would allow it. One of the main objectives of Romania’s national strategy for fisheries and aquaculture for the period 2023-2027, that is currently being developed, is to increase domestic fish production through mariculture. While attempts to promote mariculture in the past have foundered for want of a legislative framework, Mr Avram says that now through a joint effort of the regulatory institutions, acts have been adopted facilitating the establishment of marine aquaculture farms and investments.

War in Ukraine has multiple impacts on Romanian aquaculture

The decline in aquaculture production may also be influenced by the challenges freshwater pond farmers face in getting loans from commercial institutions. With the ­privatisation of the aquaculture sector at the end of the 90s title to a pond farmer’s land was retained by the state. This means that it cannot be used as collateral to get a loan from a bank. Mr Avram says that land areas under water currently cannot be the subject of a concession or privatisation contract concluded between the Romanian State and farmers, as the legislative provisions are incomplete. He suggests that other assets—dams, monks, pumping stations, water supply facilities, buildings etc.— owned by the farmer may constitute suitable collateral for the farmer to secure a loan. While this has long been an issue for the aquaculture sector, a more recent challenge is the spike in energy prices the ­Russian invasion of Ukraine has provoked. Mr Avram notes that the increase in fuel costs have forced producers to raise their prices, yet at the same time inflation has whittled away consumers’ purchasing power. The European Commission has approved a number of specific measures designed to support fishermen and farmers through the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund, and to compensate them to some extent for the increased costs on the production line. In addition, he says, the government has drafted a measure that aims to reduce excise duty on diesel used in aquaculture to supplement the support to this sector. Fuel is not the only input to have increased in price. The cost of feed too has skyrocketed. The aquaculture sector’s trials are compounded by a prolonged drought recorded in 2022 all of which will have an impact on competitiveness in 2023, says Mr Avram.

Production in Romanian freshwater aquaculture is characterised primarily by two technologies, traditional earthen ponds which account for about 75% of the sales from all production systems and concrete-lined raceways or tanks that account for a further 18%. The remaining production is split broadly between floating cage and recirculation systems. The latter are highly efficient in terms of the water they consume. They also allow the micromanagement of the environment within the system and can be sited close to urban centres which is an advantage for logistics and distribution. However, they are expensive to buy, install, and run, and require skilled personnel. In Mr Avram’s opinion these systems offer a sustainable way of fish production if the energy they use comes from renewable resources and their use should therefore be encouraged. However, he is aware that the increase in fuel, energy, and feed costs has drawn the competitiveness of these units into question, so that without alternative sources of energy such as solar cells, or the production of value-added items from the fish raised in such systems, it will be difficult to have a financially viable operation using recirculation ­aquaculture.

Activity diversification and more added-value products are a priority

The importance of adding value to fish is in fact one of the objectives of the national ­strategic plan for aquaculture and diversifying the range of products is a goal that is supported through different mechanisms. Improving and diversifying the consumption of fish and fish products can be achieved by promoting high quality local, fresh, chilled, and live fish and fish products, says Mr Avram. Diversification refers not only to the variety of fish and fish products but also to the farms and their activities, he feels. Offering homestays, catering and restaurants, angling, bird and animal watching and other activities could provide the farmer with additional sources of income. The development of new, sustainable, and value-added commercial activities and products that are attractive to consumers, as well as of new marketing approaches that increase competitiveness, are among the development objectives set out in the multiannual national strategic plan for aquaculture. Market measures that support shorter supply chains and more rapid delivery of products to the final consumer as well as the spread of knowledge about the, nutritional qualities of fishery products, the food safety of aquaculture products, and public awareness campaigns on aquaculture are written into the national aquaculture and fisheries programme and co-financed by the EMFAF, says Mr Leonov. Regional, national, or transnational communication and ­promotion campaigns are envisaged to raise public awareness of aquaculture products and environmentally friendly aquaculture production methods. In the first phase, we will analyse existing data on the consumption of aquaculture products in Romania and assess ­consumer behaviour in relation to aquaculture products, especially those produced in our country, Mr Avram states. In a second phase a ­comprehensive strategy to promote the sector at the national and international level based on an analysis of the information obtained will be defined and developed. This strategy could be developed through workshops organised with the participation of aquaculture associations. He is considering a two-pronged approach: one involving national campaigns to promote fish consumption and the other to promote local farmed fish products.

Small-scale fishers sceptical of digitalisation efforts

The fisheries sector too has suffered from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to Mr Avram, commercial fishermen in the Danube Delta and the Black Sea, who, in addition to the obvious uncertainty they have experienced since the beginning of the conflict, have had to interrupt their fishing activity more often than in previous periods. They have been prevented from accessing fishing areas during military exercises conducted by the Ministries of Internal Affairs and of National Defense, activities that have intensified and expanded since the war. Another factor is the presence of mines in traditional fishing areas on the Romanian coastline, which translates into a significant decrease in fishing activities carried out during the night, reducing the quantities landed and traded. The fleet comprises mostly small-scale vessels that fish using traditional stationery gears. For the authorities, monitoring these vessels has proved to be difficult as the fishers tend to reject digitalisation, says Mr Leonov. On commercial fishing vessels exceeding 12 meters in length, there are functional data localization and transmission systems which transmit information regularly to international institutions such as the EU and EFCA (European Fisheries Control Agency), including daily and weekly reports on control activities carried out in the Black Sea, in accordance with current regulations. Since 2020 Romania has increased the digitalization of its fishing control system by, for example, creating an integrated database for fishing in the Black Sea, the direct transmission of catch information by vessels over 12 meters, the use of electronic devices for inspections at landing and sales points, and the transmission of information to the Fleet Monitoring Centre in Constanța. Although, as Mr Leonov points out, not all these projects have been completed, he believes that technological advancements bring added value to control activities in the Black Sea and to data collection which is the basis for scientific studies and analyses that contribute to better resource and control ­management.

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