The war in Ukraine has severely affected fisheries and aquaculture production

by Thomas Jensen
Yuri-Sharylo

Food security relating to fish products under threat

This article was featured in Eurofish Magazine 5 2022.

Based in Kiev, the Methodological and Technological Center for Aquaculture provides aquaculture consultancy services to individuals and companies interested in starting an aquaculture business. The advice is multifaceted and can relate to biological, legal, or commercial aspects of fish farming. Yuri Sharylo, the director of the center analyses here the impact of Russian aggression on the sector.

The war in Ukraine has been devastating for the country’s economy. But some sectors must be worse affected than others. What has been the impact on the fisheries and aquaculture sector so far and what will it be in the long term. How much has it been set back and how long will it take to recover?

To monitor the impact of the military aggression on Ukrainian aquaculture, the Methodological and Technological Center for Aquaculture has conducted a study, the full results of which will be published on our website and on social media. Given the temporary occupation of almost 20% of the territory of Ukraine (as of August 2022), the research was conducted through surveys via the Internet, social networks, telephone and by mail. The objective of this study was to obtain information directly from the industry about the impact of the military actions and martial law on the fish farming sector in Ukraine, analyse the data and try to predict the future prospects of the sector. We previously had established the extent of the destruction of aquaculture facilities during the hostilities: as of July 1, 2022, out of approximately 120 pond fish farms, 14 farms located in the north and south of Ukraine were destroyed to varying degrees (Kyiv, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kherson, Mykolaiv and Odesa regions).

In the Central and Western regions, the destruction of fish farms has not been registered. Military operations in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea have been taking place since 2014, therefore there is no possibility to conduct research there. For the time being, we cannot fully monitor the destruction of fish farms in the Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Kherson regions where there are currently active combat operations. Some areas of Dnipropetrovsk and Odesa regions are under fire. The destruction of aquaculture production capacities of Ukraine is constantly being monitored, but we will be able to estimate their volume and monetary value only after the active phase of hostilities and the complete de-occupation of our country. In addition, the enemy is conducting constant missile attacks on the entire territory of Ukraine, so any fish farming enterprise of Ukraine can be destroyed, and not only pond farms.

Regarding the restoration of the production capacity of Ukrainian aquaculture, we have the following forecast:
− 3-5 years after the full end of the war will be needed to reach stabilization of the aquaculture sector and the pre-invasion production indicators;
− by 2030, we expect the gradual implementation of the provisions of the EU legislation for fish farming in inland water bodies (Birds Directive, Water Framework Directive etc.), active introduction of modern efficient practices where reasonable (taking into account that currently Ukrainian aquaculture consists primarily of carp breeding in ponds), innovative production processes, modern biotechnologies in aquaculture.

As for fishing, it is now completely suspended in marine waters under the jurisdiction of Ukraine. Its restoration will not begin immediately after the end of combat operations, but only after a thorough study of the state of the marine environment and an assessment of whether it is safe to use marine living resources. In internal water bodies, commercial fishing has been partially suspended for safety reasons (since it is primarily conducted in water reservoirs of the Dnipro cascade), and it will also require preparatory actions of unknown duration to be resumed.

Regarding fish processing industry, mainly canneries, it should be taken into account that large fish processing facilities in the town of Bohodukhiv, Kharkiv region, were destroyed during missile attacks by the Russian armed forces. Significant fish processing facilities remained in Lviv, Odesa and Mykolaiv region, but now these enterprises cannot work at full capacity due to the difficulties with the import of raw materials to be processed. The state of processing facilities in Berdyansk and Melitopol is unknown due to the temporary occupation of these cities. The facilities in Odesa region increased the use of freshwater fish instead (bighead and silver carp, common carp, Prussian carp), but the volumes of such raw materials are limited. After the end of the hostilities, it is likely that the owners of these facilities will take up the modernization of the enterprises with the aim of expanding the assortment and increasing the use of local raw materials.

Ukraine and the EU signed an association agreement in 2014. What was the effect of this agreement on the fisheries and aquaculture sector? Did it bring about any changes on the ground? Were there clauses that specifically targeted the sector or were the benefits (if any) more general in nature?

In 2014, with the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union, Ukraine laid the foundations for the modernisation of all spheres of the country, the introduction of ­European standards in Ukraine, and the transformation of Ukrainian society to implement European values. The goal of the modernization of Ukraine is to ensure on our territory:
− a stable democracy;
− a state governed by the rule of law;
− a sustainable economy.

Ukrainians once again approved the movement towards western civilization, when on February 7, 2019, the Parliament of Ukraine adopted the Law of Ukraine “On Amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine”, which established the irreversibility of the state’s strategic course towards membership of the EU and NATO. The Ukrainian government has carried out a number of successful reforms and measures towards European integration: the creation of the national police, the creation of the anti-corruption system, the reform of self-government of territorial communities, and others. These transformations have forever changed the lives of Ukrainians, a revaluation of values ​​is taking place, and the strengthening of the civil society is going on. The visa-free regime with the EU also played a positive role for Ukrainians. To a large extent, the factors listed above have enabled Ukrainians to successfully confront an enemy that is several times stronger.

Thanks primarily to the information campaign on the integration of Ukraine into the EU, the introduction of the visa-free regime and the work of international and European organisations on the introduction of modern practices in Ukrainian aquaculture, a window of opportunity opened for Ukrainian producers. In particular, in the period from 2014 to 2022, fish farming in recirculating aquaculture systems actively developed in Ukraine, and probably the largest aquaponics enterprise in Europe is operating effectively. Much attention was paid to the issues of increasing the competitiveness of aquaculture products, ensuring their quality, developing of value chains, fish and seafood processing, marketing, and branding in aquaculture.

The state also introduced a number of positive changes aimed at stimulating the development of aquaculture. In particular, aquaculture has been added to the list of agricultural activities entitled to receive budgetary support, the regulatory framework is constantly being improved, and credit mechanisms for aquaculture production have been introduced. Most of the mechanisms for supporting aquaculture were only at the stage of adoption when the war broke out, so it is impossible to talk about any specific results, especially since the hostilities practically froze all these initiatives.

In our opinion, the measures that need urgent implementation are the tracking system for fishing and fish farming products in terms of legality of origin, and the provisions of Council Regulation (EC) 2371/2002 on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy. Work on these aspects started in 2012 and continued in 2016, but only now, as it seems, the industry management is addressing this problem seriously and closely. In addition, the issue of creating effective associations of producers is becoming more acute given the Ukrainian individualistic mentality. For this matter, we would appreciate the help of our colleagues from the EU, where producer associations help to solve both operating and developmental issues.

With Ukrainian harbours blockaded, the fishing fleet is forced to stay in port. Being unable to fish has immediate economic consequences for the fishermen, but does the lack of fish also have wider implications for food security in Ukraine? Can anything be done to remediate this?

Due to the blocking of seaports, we are currently witnessing a stoppage of marine commercial fishing in the Black and Azov seas. Also, Ukraine cannot carry out fishing in internal water bodies on the territories temporarily occupied by Russia. Fishing in internal water bodies on the territory controlled by Ukraine is continuing with some restrictions. Of course, it is impossible to compare the volume of fish extraction with pre-war levels, but fishermen still work in some Dnipro water reservoirs. On the territory of the temporarily occupied Kherson region, the occupants are trying to start illegal fishing of aquatic biological resources, and the local occupation administration is offering Ukrainian fishermen illegal permits to start fishing.

At the same time, the domestic fish and seafood market of Ukraine is mostly supplied by imports (up to 80%) and the Russian aggression really affected the provision of supplies. The logistics routes that connected Ukraine with the ports of the Baltic countries and passed through Belarus became unavailable. The import of fish products across the border with Poland is now somewhat complicated (at the beginning of the war, such import was extremely difficult). This was reflected in the supply of fish and seafood to supermarkets and specialized stores, both in terms of a reduction in the range and a significant increase in price (for some types of fish and fish products the price increased exponentially). For certain types of fish, the price increase does not cover the devaluation of the national currency hryvnia (hake, mackerel, herring), and for others, it is significantly ahead of the drop in the hryvnia (salmon, sea bream, sea bass, etc.), which is possibly connected with the difficulties in transportation of certain types of products (in particular, fresh and chilled), as well as with the supply of certain types of products on the world market. In general, it can be stated that undoubtedly the state of food security in terms of fish and seafood has worsened in Ukraine, and the reason for this is exclusively the Russian aggression.

Workers in the fisheries and aquaculture sector are preponderantly men. With the men being called up to defend their country, has work in the sector stopped or have the women and the elderly taken over the work? How much of an impact will these changes have on output?

The work of fishermen and fish farmers is hard and is associated with significant health risks. The workers in fishing and fish farming sectors in Ukraine are mostly men. In fish processing enterprises there are more women than men. However, we should note that statistical data on gender distribution in fisheries are not recorded in Ukraine, and this is one of the issues that must be resolved during the implementation of the measures to bring the structure of our economy closer to the EU countries. Of course, the martial law and the mobilization of men into the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has had a negative effect on the recruitment status in fishing and fish farming and will be also evident in the future. A large number of men employed in fisheries who fought in the east of Ukraine since 2014 volunteered to defend Ukraine in the first days of the full-scale invasion. On the other hand, as in most northern ­European countries, fishing and fish farming in Ukraine are noticeably aging, so the outflow of human potential from fishing and fish farming enterprises was not as significant as in some other industries.

What can other countries do to help Ukraine preserve the sector during the war and to rebuild it after it?

It is obvious that after the war it will be necessary to conduct a profound analysis of the events, to study the reasons and motives of the aggression, to develop the measures to prevent the recurrence of similar cataclysms on the planet. However, the war brings not only losses and grief, it is also a catalyst for building economic capacity and for exploiting new opportunities. In my opinion, there is a strong reflection on national values going on right now. We understand that the window of opportunity will remain open for Ukrainians for some time, and we must find a way to benefit from it.

A possible option for assistance is the purchase by foreign partners of Ukrainian cyprinids, pike perch, and products of Ukrainian ocean fishing, which would help to support ­Ukrainian producers at a time when the ­purchasing power of the population of Ukraine has declined. It would certainly be useful for assistance in certifying processing facilities at fish farms to export to the EU, because it is usually an expensive procedure and particularly under the current circumstances. Of course, it would be useful to help with the purchase of feeds for intensive aquaculture at European prices, because, in a situation of physical destruction of ponds as a result of the hostilities, it is precisely intensive forms of aquaculture that should be counted on in solve the issue of food security. As a methodological and technological center, we believe that assistance is needed with the introduction of productive breeds of typical species in Ukrainian fish farming (namely common carp, rainbow trout, African catfish) that are resistant to disease and to climate change impacts. In addition, in our opinion, assistance with the creation of producer associations in the form of workshops, meetings, etc., would be beneficial.

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