Aquaculture can provide high quality products when fisheries are unable to supply the market for one reason or another - an inadequate resource base, for example, or shortages brought on by heavy exploitation pressure on the available stock and/or increasing market demand, temporary declines in landings due to weather conditions, seasonality, etc. Furthermore, it seems certain that the role of aquaculture will become increasingly important in the future.
It has long been recognised that, vast as they are, the oceans cannot support unlimited or uncontrolled harvesting of their wild fish resources. Most of the world's marine stocks are now fully exploited, in the sense of being fished up to the point of sustainable yield. Indeed, concern is now commonly expressed over the dangers of excessive exploitation. Overfishing resulting especially from the harvest activities of too many industrial craft (trawlers, seiners, longliners, drift netters, processing and support ships, etc.), often operating as national fleet units under conditions of direct or indirect subsidy, has in several parts of the world led to cases of serious to drastic stock depletion and increased competition and even conflict over access to dwindling wild resources. Under such circumstances of full-to-excessive exploitation, production to meet the growing world demand for fish and fish products will have to be secured through various types of fish farming. It is reckoned that aquaculture already accounts for around 20% of global fish production, and that this figure may rise to 25% by the year 2000 (Ratafia 1995).
Whilst overall prospects for the future of fish culture worldwide may therefore seem in principle quite promising, it is by no means a form of enterprise that offers guaranteed positive outcomes. Success (or failure) depends on many factors, chief amongst which are proper site selection, application of suitable (i.e. site-adapted technology), and good management practices. But because fish farming even on a small and simple scale requires a fair amount of investment in terms of time, energy, and financial resources, a first question that should be asked when contemplating projects is whether or not they are worthwhile. Can the resource expenditure needed be justified according to anticipated returns? In the Libyan context, where aquaculture activities do not have a long established tradition and where there exists a very active marine capture fishery, this question warrants careful thought.
What is ultimately at issue here is the way in which aquaculture fits as a component of a wider fisheries development plan which combines general strategies with specific policies and policy instruments in order to achieve national sectoral objectives (Insull and Nash 1990). The complex process of aquaculture project formulation, if it is to yield fruitful outcomes, must be firmly rooted in a coherent sector plan.
[Planners] … should be constantly aware that… projects must be well-integrated into the planning process or difficulties may occur. Among potential difficulties are the following:
- There is no machinery for identifying and resolving critical policy issues.
- If projects do not respond to real needs, natural resources will be dissipated.
- Donor-financed projects may be accepted because of their short-term advantages to hard-pressed departmental budgets, but in the long-term there are insufficient resources to sustain them.
- There is a conflict with other activities when projects are implemented.
- Project objectives may conflict with each other.
Many of the weaknesses in projects which materialize in … implementation may be attributed to poor … formulation, in particular the often less-than-systematic way in which project ideas are integrated into the economic and institutional fabric of the sector. Good project formulation thus starts at the sectoral planning stage [ibid:1].
In the case of the Libyan fisheries and aquaculture sector this absolutely critical linkage between planning and project formulation is in need of considerable attention. A first recommendation deriving from this review is therefore that steps should be taken as a matter of high priority to ensure the clear delineation of sectoral objectives with regard to the role of aquaculture and that a comprehensive plan be devised to provide the means - i.e. the strategies, policies, and policy instruments - for their realisation. The first tentative steps in this direction are found in a document recently produced by a specially constituted technical committee, purportedly laying out the short-term portion of a ‘General Plan for the Aquaculture Sector’ (GADA 1995).2 Although representing a welcome beginning, it is rather spare in substance and obviously in need of much further elaboration - to the extent that the use of the word ‹plan’ may be somewhat misleading. In addition to establishing a detailed justification or rationale for the commitment of public assets (natural resources, agency staff establishments, and funding) to aquaculture development in terms of sectoral potentialities and national objectives, any fully elaborated plan would seek to lay out development strategies and the means to deliver them, as shown in a very schematic fashion below.
COMPONENTS OF FISHERIES/AQUACULTURE SECTOR PLANS*
* Adapted from text of Insull and Nash (1990).
All of the above components should be conceived as parts of an integrated whole. With regard to the hypothetical policy instruments, for example, aquafarming projects would ideally be encouraged as actions that fit into a global programme of development, rather than as discrete or haphazard ‘one-off’ events. The legislative and support services instruments would fit as complementary measures. It is precisely in this respect that the current state of sectoral planning in Libya is deficient. Although a start-up programme of aquaculture has existed in one form or another since around the mid-1970s, and although since 1988 the General Aquaculture Development Authority (GADA) has been established with a remit to oversee and promote aquafarming interests in the country as one of the official constituent bodies of the Secretariat of Marine Wealth, the integration of strategy-policy-instrument components of planning remains weak. There is a pressing need to establish coherence and complementarity. A legislative framework for the aquaculture sub-sector can hardly be said to exist, for instance. Law 14 of 1989 Concerning Utilisation of Marine Wealth (SMW 1989), the basic legislative instrument for regulating the national fisheries, makes no direct reference to aquaculture activities. Whilst the Technical Interpretation of Law 14 of 1989 (SMW1991), a campanion guide, does contain a section that relates to fish culture (Annex 3), it does little more than: note some simple definitions; assert the authority of the SMW to require approval for establishing aquafarming installations and of the MBRC and GADA to make recommendations on such installations and to have access to aqua farms for research purposes; and lay out some very general conditions for the movement of fish fry and for the control of disease and parasites. A need for major revision and upgrading of legislation pertaining to aquaculture is clearly indicated, as indeed is the case for the body of national fisheries legislation as a whole.
2.3.1 Investment and operating costs
Amongst the various costs with which aquaculture planning must reckon can be included those of initial investment in basic installations and infrastructure, utility operations (pumps, electricity, etc.), stocking with fry, hiring of full-time and part-time labour, and purchase of feed.
These costs are not negligible. For example, bass and bream fingerlings purchased on the current international market can run up to around $ 0.50 each, and most installations need deliveries in at least ten thousand unit lots for each stocking cycle. Fingerlings therefore constitute an important operational cost of aqua farms.
Feed likewise represents an important cost. An average of 2 kg of feed is needed to produce 1 kg of fish and the cost of high quality feed is presently about $ 0.80 / kg. Whilst some brands of feed are cheaper to buy than others they do not provide a good Food Conversion Ratio (FCR) and thus in the last analysis may prove more expensive than brands with higher initial purchase costs.3 A further point about feeds is that they are perishable and ordinarily should not be stored for more than three months. It is thus necessary to have a regular supply, and, especially during summer, to have proper (preferably refrigerated) storage facilities -- another detail that carries cost implications.
Clearly aquaculture facility installation and running expenses will be dependent upon the type and scale of operation in question. Although these cannot be accurately projected without carrying out in-depth costing studies on a project-by-project basis, it is at least possible to anticipate rough orders of magnitude. At the lower end of the scale civil works and equipment for establishing a small pond facility of say 1 ha. surface area, optimally capable of producing around 8–10 tonnes of sea bass or sea bream per annum, could at current prices require the outlay of between $5,000 to $10,000 (ca. 1,700 to 3,400 LD, at official exchange rates), with a further yearly outlay of roughly $10,000 to $13,000 (ca. 3,400 to 4,400 LD, at official exchange rates) to meet operating costs (labour, utilities, feed) and purchase of fingerlings. At the other end of the scale, investment and installation expenses associated with a large offshore cage installation, capable of producing as much as 85 tonnes of sea bass or bream per production cycle, might run in the range of 1.5 million LD ($ 500,000 equivalent, at market rates), with another 1.5 million LD ($ 450,000) required for annual operating costs and purchase of fingerlings.
2.3.2 Supporting services
Another dimension of costs that must be considered when planning for aquaculture projects relates to provision of supply and technical services. These services are needed to support operations of whatever scale, whether in the private or public domain. Hatchery services are of particular importance. Hatcheries are fairly high cost ventures due to the sophisticated nature of the technology and expertise their operations demand. A common guideline is that, in order to be economically viable, a hatchery should produce more than three million fry per year. Stocking for a small 1 ha pond operation might require around 20,000 fingerlings, and for a larger offshore cage unit up to 350,000. It is generally advisable therefore not to incorporate hatchery units into operations except for those of an extremely large scale. For most operations it would be better to receive stocks from a central service. Any national aquaculture industry based on production from multiple small-to medium-scale farms would therefore require a system of fingerling supply and transport from a hatchery or hatcheries located within the country or at least the general region. In Libya at the present time no hatchery facilities have yet been developed to a fully operational stage, though some preliminary work involving marine and brackish water species has started at Ain Kaam (near Khums).4 Ain Ziana (near Benghazi) will be the site of a second and far larger marine hatchery installation which is now under construction. The facility is intended to serve an adjoining large-scale pond complex planned for the near future, and eventually to supply seed stock to other projects both public and private.
In the same way that it is difficult on economic grounds to justify the inclusion of hatchery units as part of each and every aquafarming enterprise, particularly those of a modest scale, so too there is no sense in each enterprise trying to retain specialised staff to advise on such matters as stock feeding and growout or disease management interventions. Whilst farm owners and operators certainly must be able to have access to technical advice and assistance whenever necessary, it would be prohibitively expensive to employ specialists on a full-time basis. Centralised consultative services and extension support organised by zone or region and operated on private commercial lines or as semi-commercial government agency affiliates would probably be a more advantageous approach. For Libya the GADA and its Aquaculture Projects Corporation (APC) affiliate represent a possible institutional framework through which such a fish farming extension system might be elaborated.
A further layer of technical and advisory support for any national aquaculture industry is that of academic training and applied research and development (R & D). In this connection too some provision of resources in facilities and specialised personnel, whether through public, private, or mixed government-industry funding sources, needs to be contemplated. The SMW's Marine Biology Research Centre at Tajura is the obvious candidate institution to fulfill such an essential training and R & D role on a full-fledged basis. A good deal of research and pilot aquaculture facility rehabilitation and installation work would first have to be completed , however (Vallet 1994a).
Initiatives have recently been taken to create additional aquaculture-oriented institutional capacity through the opening of a specialised department within the Faculty of Agriculture at El Fatah University. This should certainly be taken as a positive indication of growing interest in aquafarming within the country. However, given that existing service agencies already represent substantial public investments in staff establishment and physical plant, and could certainly be utilised more fully if need be, the move does not seem particularly well advised. GADA and the MBRC between them provide extension, academic and practical training, and R & D capabilities that seem entirely adequate to cope with aquaculture sector needs for the foreseeable future.
2.4.1 Market outlooks and revenues
Aquaculture production is increasing along or off the shores of a number of Mediterranean countries, including Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, Tunisia, and Turkey. This trend does not in itself constitute sufficient reason for deciding to embark on an ambitious programme of aquafarming development in Libya. Perspective and cautious deliberation are needed. For instance, fish farmers within the region have in recent years devoted a great deal of attention to the culture of high value sea bass and sea bream. At the present time harvests are running at over 5,000 tonnes for bass and around 13,000 tonnes for bream. Although standard retail market prices remain high, bulk prices apparently are beginning to drop (less than US$ 10.00/kg). It may be that bass and bream will change in status from premium fish to ‘ordinary food’ as their availability grows and their prices decrease (cf. Arrundale and Curr 1989). Such a situation has already been encountered in the salmon farming industry of northwest Europe. The industry grew rapidly in the 1980s, until the market became saturated with supplies. Prices then dropped and a period of industry reorganisation ensued, as many producers were forced out of business and others consolidated and/or readjusted their operations toward higher quality standards.
It goes without saying that the viability of aquaculture establishments as commercial enterprises will depend on financial performance, i.e. their ability to generate enough revenue to pay for their investment and running costs and to yield some profits through market sales. In this connection it is relevant to note that production from aquafarming installations in Libya remains negligable. Furthermore, it should be a matter of some concern that there has thus far been practically no interest or initiatives in aquafarming projects emanating from the private sector. The only private investment initiative of which the study team is aware concerns a case of a proposed small-scale pond operation being organised by a landowner in the Meleta area, close to Zulton (near Sabratah). This project remains very much in the formulation stage, however.
If commercial possibilities continue to appear weak and unpromising, and assuming that production is not to be subsidised indefinitely out of the public purse, then there would not seem to be any compelling reasons to encourage widespread establishment of aquaculture facilities.
2.4.2 Long-term socioeconomic benefits
Yet at this ‘pioneering’ or start-up phase of aquafarming within Libya, considerations other than strict financial performance may also weigh heavily in the decision-making process. Official macro-level policy, for one thing, favours economic diversification and greater self-sufficiency in food production. In the case of aquaculture this may translate into material support to research and pilot development efforts in the field. Such support has already been forthcoming to some extent from the SMW through GADA and APC, as demonstrated by the pilot/trial operations at Ain Kaam, Abou Dzira, Ain Ziana, and Ain El Ghazala. These pilot stations ideally serve or will serve to establish the feasibility of particular species/ technique models for wider application. Their justification may thus be cast in terms of socioeconomic benefits projected for the long run rather than the immediate future.
2 The technical committee held meetings through 1994 and early 1995. Members of the LIBFISH Aquaculture Working Group expressed interest in joining in the deliberations but unfortunately this opportunity never materialised. It is understood that the ‘long-term’ portion of the ‘General Plan for the Aquaculture Sector’ has not yet boon drafted.
3 Domestically produced fish feeds are not available. It was hoped that an assessment of national feed production capabilities would have been completed on the basis of a feeds industry survey that was to have been carried out in late 1994 -early 1995 (Ajnaf 1995). Unfortunately this survey was never completed as planned.
4 Ain Kaam is one of several pilot field stations that have been or are in the process of being established as part of a national aquaculture start-up programme under the overall authority of the Secretariat of Marine Wealth (SMW). These stations are managed through the General Aquaculture Development Authority (GADA), either directly or through GADA's operational arm, the Aquaculture Projects Corporation (APC). Other stations besides Ain Kaam include Ain El Ghazala (GADA/APC project site, between Derna and Tubruk), Ain Ziana (new GADA/APC site, near Benghazi), and Abou Dzira (GADA trial site, near Benghazi), Smeda (new GADA/APC project site, south of Misratah), and Brak El Shati (now abandoned project that used waste irrigation water from an agriculture scheme near Sebha in the Fezzan Desert, about 650 km south of Tripoli). Various other aquaculture-related activities, undertaken since the mid-1970s include reservoir stocking at Wadi Kaam dam (south of Khums), and Wadi Mjinine dam (Ben Gashir, close to Tripoli), and trial shellfish culture Farwa Lagoon (Abu Kamash, on the coast near the Tunisian border). More details are provided in later sections of this review.