This is the second and final article based on an FAO mission to Iran (constituted by Dr. Devin Bartley and Dr. Krishen Rana of the FAO Fisheries Department) to help SHILAT evaluate stocking pogrammes and the management of aquatic genetic resources in aquaculture.


Iran Promotes



Krishen Rana1and D.M. Bartley 2

1 Data and Statistics Unit

2 Fishery Resources Division

The authors would like to gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the SHILAT and staff, in particular, Mr Hossain Abdolhay, Mr Yousefpor and Mr Maygolynejad, both during and following mission to the Islamic Republic of Iran.


• narrow the national variation in per capita fish consumption which currently ranges from below 1kg/yr. in Central Provinces to over 20kg/yr in coastal provinces,

• raise apparent per capita fish consumption to 6.5kg,

• sustain and increase the employment security of the fisherfolk, particularly in the Northern Provinces, and

• diversify the economy and increase non-oil exports.

Developments in capture fisheries have been published in a previous issue of FAN. The purpose if this article is to highlight recent issues and forthcoming challenges related to aquaculture development in IRI.


At present, the average per capita fish consumption in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is low, at around 4.5 kg compared with the world average of 13.5 kg. To increase average consumption to the desired 6.5 kg level by the year 2020, the total fishery output in the IRI would need to increase from 382,000 metric tonnes (mt) in 1995 to 670,000 mt. At present, the Caspian Sea region and other inland waters produce around 60,000 and 59,000 mt of fish, respectively. The plan, however, is to increase production from these water bodies to 420,000 mt by 2020 to satisfy the projected per capita consumption. Accordingly, the IRI has identified fisheries, in particular aquaculture, as a high priority area for stabilizing and increasing fish production; more specifically, to:

Background to aquaculture development

Aquaculture development in the IRI started in the early 1970's with technical assistance from the Soviet Union for the artificial propagation of sturgeon (Acipenseridae) fingerlings for restocking the Caspian Sea. Since then, the capacity to mass produce other Caspian sea species such the mahi sephid (Rutilus frisii kutum), Caspian trout (Salmo trutta caspius), bream (Abramis brama), pike-perch (Stizostedion lucioperca), rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and cyprinids for restocking other suitable inland water bodies was rapidly acquired by SHILAT, the Iranian Fisheries Company charged with developing national programmes for development, management, and conservation of aquatic resources for fisheries and aquaculture.


Reproductive and seed rearing technologies and infrastructure has been disseminated to private farmers in an effort at privatization and strengthening of the sector. Aquaculture has since expanded to culture of food fish in raceways (trout) and ponds (cyprinids). Other species are also being targeted for future culture. Development projects on the farming of penaeid shrimp (Peneaus semisulcatus and P. indicus) in the Gulf region and along the southeastern area of the Caspian Sea are currently underway. The IRI have also initiated projects to evaluate the feasibility of culturing Artemia cyst, grouper, pearl oyster, and aquatic plants.

Current status of aquaculture production

The Government has been successful in its efforts to raise aquaculture output and this is reflected in the overall expansion rate of the sector at 8.2 %/yr during 1990-1996. To date, five species contribute to aquaculture output in the IRI (Figure 1). In 1996, production amounted to 30,000 mt, valued at US$ 306.6 million. Production of the major species, rainbow trout, Onchorincus mykiss, silver carp, Aristichthys molitrix, and bighead, A. nobilis, increased at 27, 11 and 7 %/yr between 1991 and1996. The Chinese carps: silver carp, grass carp, (Ctenopharyngodon idella) and bighead carp, and common carp dominated production. In 1996, the two groups accounted for 93% (28,000 mt) of reported aquaculture production. Following the introduction of Chinese carps in the 70s, there has been a shift from traditional common carp monoculture to polyculture of Chinese and common carp. The increasing production of silver carp reflects the higher stocking ratio of this phytoplankton feeder in the polyculture system despite its lower retail market price (R2,500- 3,000/kg in 1995) (3,000 Rials = 1 US$) compared to grass carp (R5,000-6,000 in 1995).


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Incentives for expanding aquaculture

Iran is actively pursuing a holistic approach for aquaculture development, building on one of its key strengths--technology for mass artificial propagation of seed and infrastructure for restocking inland and coastal waters. To promote aquaculture as an independent economic activity, the IRI has taken several initial steps to encourage private sector involvement. These include:

• making the private sector solely responsible for fingerling production for ongrowing,

• providing low interest loans,

• subsidizing feed ingredients for feed production,

• providing low price fingerlings from state hatcheries,

• granting twenty-year tax exemption for farms,

• providing low priced or free land with service, such as roads and canals for shrimp farms, and

• mounting effective public promotion initiatives to increase fish consumption, particularly in the Central region of the IRI, where fish eating habits are not well established.

These recent initiatives of the Government have proved successful in attracting private investment in both the seed production and ongrowing segments of the sector. In 1996, around 20 private cyprinid and 10 private trout fingerling production hatcheries were operational. In case of rainbow trout, 80 private ongrowing farms were operational in 12 provinces. Between 1992 and 1996, the area under rainbow trout production increased from 80,000 to 166,000 m2 (raceway area) and production increased from 775 to 1,900 mt.

Current situation and capacity

Production of major species groups

The culture of carps, trouts and marine shrimp currently form the basis of Iranian aquaculture.


Carps are primary farmed in three main provinces: Gilan, Mazandaran and Khuzestan. Production of carp seed for grow-out by private industry is now primarily done by the private sector. Carp broodstock selection is usually based on head-size, color, and gill structure (surface and shape of filter) and adults are usually used for 3-4 years and then replaced. A key factor in the successful transfer of seed production to the private sector was the switch from the Hungarian method of seed production using small incubators and small spawning tanks in which


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Chinese design carp hatchery on private carp farm. Circular concrete tanks for spawning and collecting spawn and conical shaped incubators (in background), used for rearing Chinese carp spawn.


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Highly engineered farm in the north of Iran using flow through raceway system for ongrowing rainbow trout.

handling mortalities were high to the Chinese method of using concrete circular tanks fitted with egg collecting devices for spawning and egg collection/incubation, in which intervention in the spawning process is minimal.

Carps are ongrown to market size in production systems that vary from simple ponds managed on a part-time basis to capital intensive and professionally engineered and constructed farms managed on a full time basis. In 1994 there were around 2,583 registered warmwater fish farms in the country, with a combined pond water surface of approximately 8,000 ha. In Gilan Province alone there are about 12 private carp hatcheries and 2,200 ongrowing carp farms with around 3,500 ha of ponds.

The bighead, silver, grass and common carp are predominantly reared under semi-intensive static polyculture conditions, in which organic and inorganic fertilizers and supplementary feeds are commonly used. In such systems, carps are produced in a one year culture cycle. Carp fingerlings (5-10g) are stocked at between 2,000- 6,000/ha in March-April. Lower densities are stocked when larger sized marketable fish are required. Ponds are fertilized with urea (135-1500 kg/ha/yr), ammonium phosphate (80-575 kg/ha/yr) and manure (3-10 mt/ha/yr) and fish are fed a supplementary diet consisting of a variety of grains (100-6,000 kg/ha/yr). Some farmers practice intensive monoculture of common carps in aerated ponds and use high protein (30-40 %) pelleted feed. Marketable fish are harvested between November-February and production varies between 1.6 to 5.5 mt/ha.

Rainbow trout

Culture of rainbow trout is restricted to the cooler northern areas of the country and the Alborz and Zagros mountain ranges. Typically, rainbow trout farms are small (below 50 mt/yr) but some have a potential for producing 50 - 200 mt/yr. Most of the farms use the raceway system of production. SHILAT has conducted a specific training course for civil engineers to meet the challenges of constructing and managing such production systems.

Seed production and intensive ongrowing of rainbow trout in IRI is well developed using standard methods of breeding, larval rearing and aerated grow-out raceways. Currently, many of the farms import eyed eggs from Scotland and Norway and use these eggs as source of brood stock when mature. In 1995, SHILAT imported 1 million eyed eggs from Scotland. Survival rate to eyed egg stage of 80%, and 70% to alevin stage is common, and in 1996 some 10 million fingerlings were produced by the private sector.

For ongrowing, trout are fed on commercial pellets of varying sizes produced by Chineh, the only feed manufacturer in IRI and supported by the State. The conversion efficiency of manufactured pelleted feed is in the order of 1 : 1.1 - 1.4 ( wet : dry weight basis). Some farmers manufacture their own moist diets on-farm for broodstock, larval rearing and grow-out. The culture period to market size (about 30 cm in length and at least 225 g in weight) varies depending on water temperature. Slow growth rate, principally due to water temperatures as low as 2oC in the north, results in a 14 month production cycle, whereas the warmer more constant water temperatures (ca13oC) around Tehran reduces the culture cycle to 9 months. Risk of disease introduction, rising production costs and growing


knowledge base in IRI is likely to result in the banning of any further importation of eyed eggs into the country.

Marine shrimp

Penaeid culture in the southern provinces along the Gulf and Sea of Oman has been identified by the IRI, since 1992, as a means of generating non-oil export earnings. To date some 200,000 ha of marginal agricultural lands have been allocated for shrimp farming. In addition to these lands, the IRI is promoting pond culture of Penaeids (Peneaus semisulcatus and P. indicus) using large tracks of marginal agricultural land on the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea in Gorgan and Gonbad Province as a means of providing alternative employment in the north.

At present six development sites totaling 18,000 ha, out of the 200,000 allocated to shrimp farming, have been identified and about 4,000 ha are scheduled to be developed in the current Five year plan. In the southern provinces the government is developing each site by building the necessary infrastructure; the developed areas will be ceded to potential aquafarmers (20ha/farm). Shrimp farming is centered on the development of species indigenous to the Gulf, particularly Penaeus semisulcatus and P. indicus. The private sector in IRI produced 93 % of the 136 mt of shrimp in 1995 and achieved yields of 7.4 mt/ha. In the Caspian sea region, production yield of 4 mt/ha has been reported. To ensure sustained high productivity, the Government is also developing plans to regulate the sub-sector and provide training, loans, feed and seed.


The potential to produce high valued Artemia cysts and biomass in the hyper-saline (100-150ppt) Uromia Lake to procure live feed for the expanding penaeid farming and for export is being actively explored. The lake, which has an area of 6000 km2 and has the potential to produce 300 tonnes cysts. A pilot processing plant had already been established on the lake shores and, in 1996, 20 mt of cysts were produced (pers. Comm. Mr Abdolhay).

Potential for further development

Hatchery technology exists in Iran for the several species that are only used in restocking programmes. Therefore, potential exists to develop these species as domesticated farmed fish. Table 1 lists some of these potential candidate species. Although species of sturgeon are the obvious species for culture,

their slow growth rate is a hindrance and there are efforts to use faster growing species or hybrids. There is also interest in utilizing bream, Abramis brama, in polyculture systems, but this species has shown poor tolerance to low oxygen. Further efforts to find more suitable stock or to improve genetically the local bream so that it could tolerate polyculture conditions should be pursued. This species has a higher market value than Chinese carps and would be expected to also increase the value of aquaculture production. Mahi sephid may be a candidate for saline soils unsuitable for agriculture. However, research on how to culture the species past the juvenile stage is required. A UNDP/FAO mission on "Development of National Strategy for Aquaculture Shrimp Management" (IRA/97/020/A/08/12) is currently underway.

Although aquaculture development is relatively new, the IRI has made significant progress in promoting aquaculture as an independent food producing activity. They have :

allocated natural resources for aquaculture development for controlled expansion,

taken steps to improve processing, marketing, and related infrastructure,

invested in strengthening human capacity, and

successfully raised demand for aquatic products, especially trout.

To maintain and extend this progress, however, several constraints need to addressed on an ongoing basis. Efforts are needed to:

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Circular tanks used for rearing sturgeon fry for restocking programme. Note multiple screens to minimize blockage and possible overflow.


secure all year round supply of high quality trout seed,

provide technical information on production systems and their management,

provide training and dissemination of information on reproductive biology and genetics, broodstock management techniques, feed and feeding technologies,

broaden the availability of credit facilities,

refocus research and training programmes.,

strengthen the extension service,

facilitate procurement of equipment,

improve transportation for fish to distant markets, and

improve the manufacture artificial feed.

The FAO mission of Dr. Bartley and Dr. Rana have identified specific activities to meet some of the immediate challenges to aquaculture development in the IRI. These included the development of a national broodstock programme for rainbow trout and other species to:

produce stocks better suited for local conditions and manage stocks to maintain genetic integrity in the light of potential ban on importation of eyed trout eggs,

produce all female triploid trout,

develop photoperiod manipulation technologies at selected SHILAT and private sites to secure all year round eyed egg production,

provide training courses on broodstock management and genetics, and

develop ex-situ conservation measures to protect current and future developments in selection programmes.

The prognosis of aquaculture in the IRI is very good. The Government is taking steps to elaborate a national aquaculture development plan in support of the sector and is creating a positive enabling environment for the sustained development of aquaculture.

Sources of information

Bartley D. and Rana, K. J. (1998). Evaluation of Artifical rehabilitation of the Caspian sea fisheries and genetic resources management. FAO report prepared for the SHILAT (Fisheries Department).

Iranian Fisheries Sector Study (1997). Final report. Part 1. Prepared by COFREPECHE and Abzigostar Consulting Engineers.

Table 1. Some species for potential aquaculture development in Northern Iran

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