There are currently 22 fish pond farms (under various forms of ownership), three fish farms havesting and processing lake and river fish, five fish hatcheries rearing seed for stocking lakes and reservoirs, two warmwater cage systems (belonging to fish farms) and one cold water trout farm (Konchits, 2005). Different management and ownership systems are in operation.
The total pond surface of the country is 24 530 ha, of which 20 800 ha belong to the state owned fish farms and 3 730 ha to agricultural enterprises of communal-municipal ownership. The existing pond capacities allow an annual production of up to 19 900 tonnes of marketable fish, of which the enterprises of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food yield up to 16 600 tonnes (Konchits, 2001 and 2002).
Over recent years, privately owned enterprises (farmers, private entrepreneurs and firms) have begun aquaculture production activities. The majority (54 farms in six provinces) rear fish in leased natural and artificial water bodies according to culture-based fisheries, i.e. fattening of fish stocked in polyculture on a natural food base and their subsequent harvesting using commercial fishing gear. Two enterprises have opted to specialize in trout rearing from imported fry, and two others in sturgeon rearing using industrial methods.
The main freshwater fish producer of the country is the Department of Water Management and Melioration of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Republic of Belarus, bringing together 19 fish pond farms and one that rears stocking material and harvests fish in natural water bodies. They are responsible for about 88 percent of the annual fish production of the country. Total aquaculture production reported to FAO in 2004 was 4 150 tonnes.
A new phase of introduction and development of fish farming started from the middle of the 1920s. Specialized fish pond farms were created by integrating former landowners' ponds and constructing new ones. In particular, the farm "Beloe" was organized in 1924, "Slepyanka" in 1926, "Volma" in 1928, "Krasnaya Zor'ka" in 1931, "Tremlya" in 1932, "Lakhva" in 1936, "Sokolovo", "Novinki" and "Al'ba" in 1939–1940.
The greatest increase in production capacity took place between the 1960s and 1980s when new large complete operation farms were constructed and old ones were reconstructed under the development plan of the Poles'e Lowland. As a result, the fish farms of "Lyuban'" (2 400 ha of pond surface), "Krasnaya Sloboda" (2 500 ha), "Loktyshi" (2 500 ha), "Selets" (2 100 ha) and "Poles'e" (1 200 ha) were constructed and put into operation. Along with pond construction, cages and tanks were constructed in the warm effluent waters of power plants (in the towns of Belozersk and Novolukoml'), to operate fish culture in closed-loop water supply systems in commercial enterprises. The total designed production capacity of fish farms reached 22 650 tonnes by the end of the 1980s. In addition to common carp, goldfish, rainbow trout, Chinese carps, Northern pike, peled and channel catfish were reared. In 1989 the maximum volume of fish production was reached. It amounted at 21 300 tonnes, including 17 400 tonnes produced on state fish farms and 740 tonnes from ponds of other agricultural enterprises. Such important fish farming production was ensured by highly intensive technological processes, due first of all to formulated feed use, which was responsible for up to 70 pecent of the increase in fish production (Zhukov, 1997).
Fish farming was developed intensively in the country until the end of the 1980s and early 1990s. This was achieved mainly through highly mechanised technological processes and the introduction of new production facilities. With the change to market based management systems at the beginning of the 1990s, the abolition of the subsidies system and the increase in prices for basic cost items (feeds, energy sources, fertilizers, accessories), production volumes began to decrease and reached their minimum (3 900 tonnes) by 1998. Due to this, farms have shifted almost entirely to low intensity technologies and this has caused a decrease in fish pond productivity (Konchits, 2001).
The total production of marketable fish from state fish farms fell from 15 400 tonnes in 1990 to 8 600 tonnes in 1992 and reached its minimum, i.e. 3 000 tonnes by 1997. An increase was later observed in fish production, but volumes have not reached previous levels. In 2004, total aquaculture production reported to FAO was 4 150 tonnes.
In the country there are also several fish pond hatcheries rearing seed for sale and stocking natural waters.
In addition to ponds, about 20 000 m² of cages and tanks have been constructed on warm effluent waters of electric power plants and these are also used for fish rearing (Konchits, 2005).
The leading scientific institution in the field of aquaculture, the Institute for Fisheries in Minsk, has its own experimental base, including the Selection and Pedigree Plot "Izobelino" (41.08 ha) and the Experimental Fish Farm "Vileyka" (233.5 ha).
All fish species are reared using classic selection methods, without genotype modification. In fish culture practice, mainly hybridisation (interbreed and interline crosses of common carp) is used. Technologies for obtaining intergenus hybrids (bighead carp X silver carp, common carp X goldfish) are developed and small quantities of these are used. Currently genetically modified species are not used in the country.
The ancestor of common carp cultured in ponds of Belarus was the Galician common carp, the blood of which still flows in pure lines of Belarus carps (Zhukov, 1994). In later times, common carp was crossed with Amur wild carp to increase its resistance to unfavourable conditions and this gave rise to elongated scaly forms. Due to the efforts of selection scientists and practical fish farmers of Belarus, the "Lakhvinskiy scaly" common carp breed reared by half of the country's farms has now been selected and approved, and the following breeds have to enter the approval process: "Izobelinskiy common carp" (without wild carp blood) and "Tremlyanskiy common carp," represented by scaly and mirror lineages.
Chinese carps were introduced to Belarus at the beginning of the 1960s from fish farms of the Russian Federation and the Central Asian republics. Most of the production consists of grass and bighead carps, while silver carp, preferring warmer waters, does not exceed 10 percent of production volumes. Up to now, pure broodstocks of all three species have been used.
Of indigenous species, the highest production volumes are reached by Northern pike. Breeders of this species are collected in natural waters, while fish obtained in pond conditions are used in further reproduction.
Wels catfish, zander and tench offer a certain potential. Their broodstocks are also formed using fish caught in natural waters. Selection work with the offspring is going on with a view to their more widespread use in fish pond farming.
The generally accepted practice to produce marketable size of common carp is the two-year cycle, where the average weight of seed is 20–25 g, the average weight of marketable fish is 340–370 g and the duration of rearing from the egg is 16–18 months. The two-year cycle for rearing is often problematic due to extremely low temperatures during the growing season, so most of the farms apply a three-year cycle. As a result, market production is obtained only by the end of the third year.
In a three-year cycle, it is possible to rear larger fish (up to 0.6–1.0 kg), but in this case, further problems arise such as the need for an intermediate stage of stocking material, i.e. second-year fish of an average weight of no more than 180 g, a longer rearing cycle (28–30 months), additional feeding costs in the third year, increased amortization of the basic assets. In a three-year cycle there is an increase in fish productivity per unit area (up to 30 percent), but the overall productivity of the farms decreases due to the longer rearing cycle. A two-year cycle is applied at three farms in Brest province ("Lakhva", "Sokolovo" and "Novoselki" fish farms) and one in Vitebsk Province ("Novolukoml'" fish farm), whilst the others apply three-year or combined (two- and three-year) cycles. In this way, they obtain fish of a higher quality, but its production cost is also higher (more than 40 percent).
The use of warmwater cage farms allowed the production of up to 1 500 tonnes of fish (1991) using the necessary formulated feeds and traditionally cultured species. Production volumes currently reach only 14 tonnes per year. The main species cultured in cages, common carp, requires the application of higher amounts of formulated feeds than in ponds, so the production cost is higher.
The production capacities of fish farming units of other enterprises operating on the basis of closed-loop water supply systems were designed to produce 1 250 tonnes of fish per year, but have only been exploited by 21.6 percent. The maximum volume of fish production here was 270 tonnes (1990). A number of factors impede full-scale fish rearing in closed-loop systems, among them lack of high-quality and high-protein floating feeds and high water treatment costs.
Fish rearing in natural water bodies on the principles of culture-based fisheries was developed in the second half of the 1970s, beginning of the 1980s (Zhukov, 1997, Konchits, 2001). From 1991, commercial farms used 17 water bodies with a total surface of 14 300 ha. Stocking lakes with species suitable for fish fattening and their subsequent harvest yielded 15 to 30 percent of the total lake and river catch, with an average fish production of 28.6–37.0 kg/ha.
According to data on exports for 2004, mainly live Northern pike was exported and, in smaller quantities, tench, wels catfish and sturgeons. The export volumes in 2003 amounted to 50 tonnes with a value of 133 800 US$, of which 2 tonnes with a value of 18 500 US$ were exported to Russia (Ministry of Statistics and Analysis of the Republic of Belarus, 2004). The main importing country is Denmark. In 2004, the enterprises of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food did not have any exports because the entire volume of export production (including Northern pike) was sold as seed for stocking inland waters.
The fish product supply and selling system is based on plans coordinated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food as producer and the Ministry of Commerce as seller. On the basis of allocated delivery quotas, enterprises conclude live fish delivery agreements and deliver to shops using their own transport. The commmercial enterprises obtain the fish at selling prices established by the specific enterprises (including the transportation costs) and have the right to establish commercial extra charges of up to 30 percent of the selling price. When fish products are sold directly by producers, the enterprises include in the sale price only the transportation costs (up to 10 percent). So when fish is sold to the consumers by the producer, its price is considerably lower than at commercial enterprises.
Certification of aquaculture production in the Republic of Belarus is done on the basis of the Standard GOST 24.896-81 on "Live fish". The development of a new state standard on "Live fish pond", corresponding to ISO requirements, is expected in the next future.
Compared to freshwater fish, marine fish is sold at a relatively low prices (15–30 percent lower than freshwater fish produced in ponds). When buying capacity is not high enough, frozen and cheaper products are preferred to more costly live products. The analysis of sales over the last ten years shows that the stable demand for common carp does not exceed 5 000 tonnes per year.
Aquaculture is an economic activity which requires significant financial investment. The rural population (farmers) is engaged in aquaculture as an activity to supplement their main occupation. This is done by leasing small water bodies and stocking them with species suitable for free-range fattening (common carp, crucian carp, Chinese carps, Northern pike) for commercial fishing or the development of recreational fishing. In areas where fish farms are located, the rural population involved in aquaculture activities as hired workers, of lower and middle level, can access to aquaculture products at production costs increasing the share of fish in their diet.
Implementation of the legislation is controlled by state administration organs of towns and villages, republican and territorial structures of veterinary control, corresponding structures of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection and the State Inspection for Protection of Animal and Plant Life under the President of the Republic of Belarus.
Those involved in rearing as well as selling and processing aquaculture products must have a proper licence to perform these activities. The Committee for Standardization, Metrology and Certification under the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus and the corresponding sanitary and hygienic services guarantee the quality and safety of products. Licences for commerce and processing are issued by the local state administrative organs (Executive Committees). Licences for catching fish and aquatic invertebrates are issued by the State Inspection for Protection of Animal and Plant Life.
The main reason for the fall in production is the difficult financial situation of fish farms and difficulties in obtaining credit facilities from banks and other financial institutions. This is made more difficult due to the three-year cycle of fish rearing, which makes short-term payoff impossible.
One reason for the difficult financial situation of fish farms is that the approved State Programme of Fish and Seafood Supply for the Population does not finance fish farming enterprises. The total amount of budgetary means allocated for the period of 1998–2003 covered only 21 percent of requirements.
Against this background, a change in ownership structure or legal status is unlikely to bring about any change in the economic situation of the sector. Since 2005, 55 percent of fish farms have the status of public companies, while 45 percent have kept their status of private enterprises. Privatization of part of the production enterprises has not had any major effect on their economic situation, because it has not lead to an improvement to or changes to the financing mechanism. Nor has the practice of changing the management from national to communal ownership become widespread. Fish farming and fishing enterprises which have been removed from the authority of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food have seen production volumes fall sharply (by 50–70 percent and more) and some even ceased to exist.
A target to increase marketable fish production to 13 000 tonnes by 2010 has been set. This must be achieved in the framework of new conditions and according to economic realities. This includes among other things a change from extensive farming methods using natural feeds to more intensive methods.
The main direction of fish culture development is the rearing of fish using combined methods, intensive and resource-saving, ensuring a profitable volumes of production as approved by the State Programme.
With respect to the interaction between aquaculture and the environment, the negative aspects are mainly related to water use management. Among the negative effects, it can be mentioned the release of additional organic substances into natural waters and to a smaller extent, food competition between the invasive and indigenous fish fauna when aquaculture operations are performed in natural waters. The instability of water levels in reservoirs has had a particularly negative impact in the spring and summer periods, during the period of reproduction of amphibians and many fish species and nesting of birds. Water level fluctuations lead to the destruction of eggs of amphibians and phytophilic fish species, as well as the destruction of bird nests, especially of aquatic birds. Moreover, land transformation related to drainage improvements of large areas and the floodplains of smaller rivers has led to a shift in the proportions of river, lake and pond ecosystems. This causes an imbalance of natural complexes and out competing of certain species by others.
However, positive aspects of the interaction between aquaculture and the environment are connected to the role of fish farming ponds as reserves for preserving biodiversity and reproduction areas for rare and endangered fish species (Romanenko et al., 2003). Due to their dimensions and high ecological capacity, ponds can be treated as nature reserves for the conservation of biodiversity. With respect to the conservation of the indigenous fish fauna of lakes and rivers of Belarus, including rare and endangered fish species, fish pond farms can be treated as gene banks where broodstocks are formed and maintained. In addition, during initiatives to protect and increase indigenous fish populations, primarily of high-value commercial species, fish pond farms can also act as fish hatcheries in order to introduce broodstock and to obtain seed for stocking natural waters.
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