Before a fish farm can be established in Greece, a licence must be obtained. The applicant must first commission (and pay for) a feasibility study by a competent government organization or private consultancy company. Application for a licence can then be made to the local government of the prefecture in which the farm is to be sited. The Ministry of Agriculture representative responsible for fisheries in the prefecture then consults a number of other government departments for their objections. These include the Department of Tourism, Department of Archaeology, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Industry, Ministry of the Environment, and Ministry of Public Health, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture itself. Interested parties can make objections to the grant of a licence via any or all of the authorities, thus potentially holding up an application for a long time. This, together with the time lag caused by pressure of work within government departments, can delay the issue of a licence for an unacceptably long time, always months and sometimes years. There is considerable scope for streamlining licensing procedures. Licences are normally issued free for the first two years, after which a 10 year licence must be paid for. Charges are not standardised throughout the country. They should be.
Where an applicant does not own the land on which he wishes to farm, even greater problems beset him. As in other countries, the Greek government is reluctant to encourage fish farming developments on land which is suitable for other forms of agriculture. However, Greece has abundant unused poor quality land, e.g. on rocky or sandy soils, much of it belonging either to central government or to local authorities. Fish farmers complain that applications for leases to use such land have taken an unnecessarily long time to process, in some cases up to three years.
This problem is especially serious for carp farms, which require relatively large areas of land. The government should bear in mind that pond fish farming on such marginal lands not only produces a crop of fish where nothing was produced before, but in addition the activity of fish farming actually improves both the texture and fertility of the soil, so that land once occupied by fish ponds becomes rich and capable of producing a wide variety of valuable crops. In some European countries it is common to utilise this extra fertility by rotating crops of fish with rice, alfalfa, etc. Thus fish farming can be seen as a method of land reclamation as well as food production. Government should therefore encourage the establishment of pond fish farms on unused marginal land, both by speeding up processing of lease applications and by holding rents down to nominal levels.
It would also encourage fish farmers to invest their own money in modernisation and improvement of their facilities if longer term leases were granted. A farmer with only a few years tenure will be reluctant to reinvest his profits in a unit from which he may soon be evicted.
There is currently no Greek company specialising in supply of equipment to fish farmers, i.e. tanks, incubators, graders, nets, cages, automatic feeders, etc. Farmers must therefore import direct from overseas manufacturers, or make equipment themselves. There is thus a significant business opportunity for someone to establish agencies for foreign equipment in Greece, as well as to manufacture some items locally. Equipment supply, combined with a technical advice service to farmers, could be well worth considering, for example, by the ELVIZ feed company. Provision of these extra services could be one way to attract customers away from agencies which only import feeds from overseas.
Most of Greece's 52 prefectures have resident Ministry of Agriculture fisheries officers, part of whose job is to supply technical advice to fish farmers in their area. Some regions have several such people, and their total number in the country is estimated at about 150. Many receive part of their salary from EEC funds.
Unfortunately, however, few fisheries officers have any thorough knowledge of fish farming, and only about 10% have received formal training in the subject. In lucky areas, knowledgeable officers have made very valuable contributions to the development of trout and carp farming. However, elsewhere the advice given by unskilled advisors has been disastrous. The consultant will mention no names or regions. The people concerned are doing their best but they simply lack the expertise to do their jobs properly. In fish farming, as in other business, bad advice is worse than no advice at all.
It is recommended, therefore, that proper training should be given to extension service workers before they are sent out to advise others. It is also strongly suggested that contacts between officers in different regions should be encouraged. Some of them are very good, and could play a major part in teaching the others. At present too many workers are operating in isolation, with few outside contacts and little technical information. In a country the size of Greece it is not necessary to have so many advisers. The service would therefore benefit from rationalisation aimed at reducing the number but increasing the quality of staff. Skilled staff could work better if concentrated into groups in strategic areas. Louros research hatchery at Ioannina and the University of Crete are two possible regional centres which already possess cores of competent, motivated staff.
Lack of information is a serious problem for many fish farmers. A major difficulty is that few publications are available in the Greek language. The chosen regional aquaculture centres or the Ministry of Agriculture could help the situation by providing translations of important standard texts. It should be stressed, though, that sources used should be of down-to-earth, practical material; not academic scientific papers.
EEC funding is now not normally available for trout or carp farming projects, though salmon farming development could be considered for aid. Similarly, the Greek government will not finance trout or carp farms, except where these are sited in areas considered especially remote or underdeveloped. In such areas, law 1262 permits the state to award grants through the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of National Economy and the Department of Industry. In total up to 50% of capital expenditure can be given, but farmers believe grants are never awarded to small units.
Loans are available from the Agricultural Development Bank, currently at 17% interest (3% below commercial rates). Loans of up to 90% of capital expenditure are possible, normally repayable over 10–12 years. The Bank is still prepared to support trout and carp ventures, judging each individual application on its merits. However, farmers complain that the Bank often requires 150% collateral for loans, making them reluctant and afraid to borrow. The Bank can also take a shareholding in fish farming companies. Cooperatives are not eligible to borrow from the Bank.
In some areas local development companies, which receive part of their income from central government, support fish farming projects.
This subject has been covered in detail by a specialist in the field, but the following points specifically concern the freshwater aquaculture sector.
There are already five full-time qualified fish pathologists working for the government in Greece. They are well spread throughout the country (Athens, Thessaloniki, Messalonghi and Ioannina). For comparison, this is a greater number than was available in Norway at the time of very rapid growth in the salmon farming industry there. The availability of staff cannot therefore be regarded as the limiting factor on a competent fish pathology service.
Nevertheless, many Greek fish farmers state that they have no access to specialist help in this field when they need it, and certainly the pathologists are not making regular visits or telephone contacts with the majority of farmers. The pathologists themselves consider they lack the necessary equipment and facilities to do a proper job. This may be so, but care must be taken that the provision of advanced analytical equipment does not turn these scientists into full-time laboratory researchers, removing them still further from their “patients”. Most pathology problems on existing fish farms involve ecto- and endoparasites which are relatively easy to diagnose and treat with existing technologies, requiring no special equipment. The trained pathologists could now take a lead in teaching farmers to carry out these simple prophylactic, diagnostic and therapeutic techniques themselves.
It has been suggested that all imports of fish and fish eggs should be banned on the grounds that they pose a risk of introducing disease to existing stocks. Whilst it is necessary to restrict random and pointless introductions, and to quarantine new stocks for some time after importation, a complete ban on imports would curtail potentially very favourable developments in a number of fields in the freshwater sector. In particular, trials with coho or other salmon species, comparison of foreign strains of rainbow trout which may have advantages of faster growth or later sexual maturation, and the extension of use of Chinese carps to enhance fisheries in eutrophic lakes and for pond culture, would all become impossible.
Coupled with an improved diagnostic and disease control resource, a policy of rigorous certification and quarantine of imported stocks, together with legislation banning individual species imports, when circumstances justify, should provide a suitable level of protection.