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Press Release 98/34






Tallinn, 26 May -- Fish production in the Central and Eastern European countries and the Russian Federation has declined dramatically over the past years, mainly due to the loss of access to distant-water fishing grounds and the collapse of centrally controlled marketing and distribution networks, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

The statement was made during the 21. FAO Regional Conference for Europe in Tallinn. Ministers and senior government officials from around 40 countries will discuss food security and agricultural issues, including food quality, during the five-day meeting.

Between 1990 and 1994, fish landings in the countries in transition dropped from about 11 million tonnes to 5 million tonnes, rising again to 6 million tonnes in 1996, FAO said. Landings of the Russian Federation, the main fishing nation, fell from around 8 million tonnes in 1990 to 3.7 million tonnes in 1994 but recovered slightly to 4.7 million tonnes in 1996. The most dramatic drops in landings between 1990 and 1996 occurred in Georgia (98 percent), Lithuania (84%) and Romania (75%). Production of the important canned fish sector dropped by 71 percent, between 1989 and 1994 in the Russian Federation.

The fleets of the region are generally old and in need of modernisation, said FAO fisheries expert Jochen Nierentz. "Most nations of the region are already modernising their redesigned fleets, with a focus on the latest catching and on board handling technology to be able to catch fish more efficiently and land a higher quality product."

Aquaculture production, mainly of carp species, has fallen from 490,000 tonnes in 1990 to 170,000 tonnes in 1996 due to the loss of subsidies and restructuring. However, aquaculture is now regaining its place in the economies and livelihoods of the Central and Eastern European countries, with newer technologies and management practices, and a widening base of species being farmed (trout, sea bass and sea bream, eels). This reflects a changing consumer demand locally and a move to exporting to newer markets in the European Union (EU) and elsewhere.

Despite production decline and job losses, fisheries still offer an important livelihood to many people in the region, especially in the poorer remote coastal areas. Around 690,000 people are employed in the fisheries sector, with 550,000 working in the Russian Federation, 48,000 in Latvia, 12,000 in Estonia, 30,000 in Poland, 24,000 in the Ukraine, 14,000 in Lithuania and 12,000 in Romania.

Per caput fish consumption has dramatically declined from a high level of around 24 kg per year in the mid 1980s to around 6 to 9kg today. However, the trend is now reversing. Fish products are resuming their place as part of the traditional diet and some species e.g. carp, are still considered less expensive compared to other protein sources, helping to stabilise the food security situation.

"The 380 million consumers of the region are an important market for fish products," Nierentz noted. "Our concern, however, is the loss of jobs in the fishery industry due to the loss of the raw material base in most of the countries. Importing raw material from outside for processing is becoming increasingly important to make up the short falls in landings and production. Fish processing will also create a significant number of jobs, particularly for women."

Trade in fish and fishery products has roughly doubled since 1990 for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Imports have increased in value from $475 million in 1990 to $1.2 billion in 1996, whereas exports have grown from $1.2 billion to $2.4 billion in the same period. The growth in exports is due in large parts to vessels from these countries landing directly into foreign ports where higher prices could be obtained than in domestic markets. To export more fish and aquaculture products, governments and the private sector will have to improve fish quality and safety to comply with international standards of the EU and North America.

Through it's EASTFISH project, FAO promotes trade and investment in the region and supports the countries in modernising their aquaculture and fish processing sectors. EASTFISH has been funded by a $3.5 million grant from the Danish government, it is based in Copenhagen and serves 17 countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

EASTFISH assists companies in finding the best financing package to modernise their processing and aquaculture facilities. Current partners are a large fish cannery in Estonia, trout farms in Georgia and Croatia and a company in Romania. It also publishes EASTFISH Magazine, providing market and technical information.




For more information on EASTFISH please contact Jochen Nierentz, Project Director, tel:0045-35 46 71 80, fax: 0045-35 46 71 81; homepage: http://www.Eastfish.Org


Related link: FAO Regional Conference for Europe.  

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©FAO, 1998