Aquaculture has emerged as a new activity in Bulgaria, although the rearing of different aquatic species dates back many years. The aquaculture sector began to develop at the end of the 18th century, a period marked by the start of the construction of the first state fish farms for rearing rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) . The first carp farms were built in the 1940s. The 1990s marked the beginning of the transition of ownership in the freshwater aquaculture from public to private, the private sector formed on the basis of the existing as well as newly built aquaculture production capacities.
Together with capture fisheries, aquaculture cannot be considered to be one of the sectors which determine the structure of the country’s economy, but it occupies a specific and important position in the economic existence and way of life of the Bulgarian people. Aquaculture can be divided into two main sub-sectors: freshwater aquaculture (warm water and coldwater) and marine aquaculture. In 2004 total output from freshwater and marine aquaculture amounted to approximately 3 300 tonnes. The total water surface area utilized for aquaculture production is approximately 3 000 ha. There is a predominance of farms rearing market-size fish. Semi-intensive production systems are normally used, and intensive systems for rearing fish are applied in the trout fish farms. In 2004 aquaculture constituted 28.65 percent of the total output from capture fisheries and production of farmed fish and other water organisms in Bulgaria. The most popular fish reared are rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), common carp (Cyprinus carpio) and Chinese carps (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix, Hypophthalmichthys nobilis, Ctenopharyngodon idellus) whereas the main output from marine aquaculture is the Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis). Fish farmers sell their aquaculture production mainly on the domestic market. Nearly 100 percent of the sales of the produced quantities of carp fish are sold on domestic markets. The majority of the quantities exported are in the form of frozen fish products.
The main task of the authorities and associations in the sector is currently to adapt the sector successfully in order to effectively apply the requirements of the Common Fisheries Policy of the European Union, to stimulate expansion in the production of fish and fish products and to target foreign markets. It could be pointed out that as a whole existing legislation in the sector has been harmonized as far as the rearing, processing and marketing of fish and other water organisms is concerned. The development of aquaculture in Bulgaria is dependent on the successful application of efficient technologies, innovation and modernization, on the good interaction between fish farmers and research institutes, and on advanced information systems.
The development of aquaculture in Bulgaria as an economic activity began at the end of the 19th century. The first public aquaculture stations for the rearing of sea trout (Salmo trutta fario) were built in 1889-1900. The year 1924, when the trout breeding station in Samokov was established, is considered to mark the beginning of trout breeding as an economic activity. The first farms for common carp rearing were constructed in the period 1941‑1945 in Plovdiv, Yambol and Sofia (Chelopechene). The material and technical foundation of the sector in the period from 1950 to 1970 was mainly related to the large-scale hydro construction of reservoirs, the purpose of which was to solve the problems relating to agriculture irrigation. In the period 1976‑1985 the major pond and net cages farms for rearing of carp and trout in the country were also constructed. The beginning of 1990 marked the transition of ownership in aquaculture from public to private. The fishery units which were owned by the state ended their activities and were taken over by the private sector formed on the basis of existing or newly-built fish production capacities. Two main sub-sectors currently exist in the country: freshwater (warm water and coldwater) and marine aquaculture. In 2004 total output from freshwater and marine aquaculture amounted about to 3 300 tonnes.
Coldwater aquaculture in Bulgaria concentrates mainly on rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) which accounts for 47 percent of the total output, sea trout (Salmo trutta fario) and brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), as well as Coregonus lavaretus, and Coregonus peled. Current average annual production from the existing and functioning trout farms was approximately 1 000 tonnes in 2002 and 2003 and 1 578 tonnes in 2004.
In May 2005 within warm water aquaculture 171 carp farms and 4 sturgeon farms were in operation. The types of fish targeted by warm water aquaculture are common carp (Cyprinus carpio), silver carp (Hypophthalmychthys molitrix), bighead carp (Hypophthalmychthys nobilis), grass carp (Ctenopharingodon idellus) and black carp (Mylopharyngodon piceus). Limited quantities of pike perch (Stizostedion lucioperca), channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus), wels catfish(Silurus glanis), Northern pike (Esox lucius) and tench (Tinca tinca) are also reared. In 2003 the production from warm water aquaculture was about 1 800 tonnes. The production of carp amounted to 1091 tonnes or 28 percent of the total output of fish in the country. The channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is reared in net cages at a special thermal regime of the cooling lake of ”Маritza-Iztok 2” Thermal Electrical Station, in the town of Radnevo. The production in 2003 amounted to approximately 174 tonnes. Sturgeons are reared in specialized farms for the production of fish for consumption and stocking material. Danube sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedti), beluga (Huso huso) and sterlet sturgeon (Acipenser ruthenus) are mainly reared. In 2003 the produced quantity of sturgeons was 144 tonnes, whereas in 2004 it was 18.5 tonnes.
With respect to the marine aquaculture sector in Bulgaria, the production of cultivated mussels in the Black Sea has been developed, and in 2003 a total number of 11 production units was registered. In 2004 the production of Mediterranean mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) was 118 tonnes. Since the beginning of 2005 two units for rearing brown sea algae (Cystoseira crinita) have also been registered. The main aquaculture production systems are earth ponds, raceways, dam lakes and net cages.
Until 1990 the major producers of freshwater fish in Bulgaria were the following state and cooperative structures:
The fisheries and aquaculture sector in Bulgaria provides employment for many people in several populated areas along the coasts of the Danube River and the Black Sea, as well as in some inland regions where the fish farms and reservoirs are located. In 2003 over 7 000 workers were employed in the sector. This number included both licensed individual fishermen in the Black Sea and the Danube River and those involved in the field of aquaculture and industrial fishing in the reservoirs inside the country. There are not specific statistical data on the people employed in the aquaculture sector.
Bulgaria can be divided into 27 administrative regions, of which 3 have an outlet to Black Sea, 7 are situated along the Danube River and the remainder in the interior of the country.
The specific hydrographic peculiarities of the country determine the uneven distribution of the farms in different regions. About half of them are concentrated in 5 regions with a total water area of 1 543 ha, whereas in the other 4 regions of the country there are no farms at all.
At the end of 2004, 217 aquaculture farms were registered with a total water surface of 3 071 ha. Of this number 61 percent comprise farms producing market-size fish, while the remaining 39 percent produce stocking material and market size fish. Only about 3 percent of the total number of farms is specialized in the production of stocking material. A major share of the farms, 69 percent, rear warm water species of which sturgeons are reared in four of them. The next category of farms rears coldwater species, 24 percent. There are also farms where both warm water and coldwater species are reared, whereas farms practising marine aquaculture account for only 2.3 percent of the total share of farms in the country.
The main aquaculture production comes from earth ponds using warm water. Considerably fewer in number are the raceways used in trout farming. Up to the end of 2004 the number of net cages farms was 7, constituting 3.2 percent of the total number of aquaculture farms. Such a type of equipment is basically used in the country for the intensive production of trout and carp, аs well as channel catfish and sturgeon. Rope collectors are used in the production of marine aquaculture.
The main water source supplying farms in the inland of the country is surface water in the form of rivers. Net cages are mainly located in dam lakes.
The majority of the farms, about 40 percent, occupy a water area of 1 tо 10 ha. A large share (27 percent) of farms has a total water area of below 1 ha for aquaculture production. The number of farms that exploit water areas of over 20 ha is small.
The majority of the farms are registered as sole proprietor companies and as physical persons. A very large number of farms are registered as Limited Liability Companies (ЕООD and ООD), while the number of joint-stock companies (АD) is minimal.
In warm water aquaculture farms in Bulgaria the main species reared is common carp (Cyprinus carpio ). The production from warm water farms constitutes 48.5 percent of the total aquaculture output of the country. Carp accounts for 57 percent of the output of warm water farms in 2004. It is reared either in ponds or in net cages, independently and together with other species. In polyculture, the main species reared with common carp are silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix ). Their introduction and acclimatization, as well as that of the grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus ) were carried out in the period 1968‑1969. In 2004 bighead carp (Hypophthalmychthys nobilis) accounted for 33 percent of the total output of warm water fish farms in the country.
Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss ) is the most dominant species in coldwater aquaculture in Bulgaria. Its production in 2004 amounted to 1 555 tonnes, which accounts for 98 percent of the output from coldwater aquaculture farms in the country and 47 percent of total aquaculture output.
The channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is reared in net cages at a special thermal regime of the cooling lake of ”Маritza-Iztok 2” Thermal Electrical Station.
The main type reared in the coastal territories of the country is the Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis). Its production in 2004 amounted to 118 tonnes, which accounts for 85 percent of the production of the coastal territories of the country. Until 2004 this was the only species produced in aquaculture in Bulgaria.
With the adoption of the Law on Fishery and Aquaculture in 2001, a procedure for the registration of persons breeding and rearing aquaculture species was introduced. As a result the whole sector was included in the accountancy and statistics for production.
Aquaculture accounted for 28.65 percent of total output (catch and production) of fish and other water organisms in Bulgaria for 2004. In 2004 aquaculture production was 3 311 tonnes, of which rainbow trout accounted for 1 555 tonnes or 47 percent, which represents a growth of 43 percent compared to 2003. The resumption of exports to the European market brought about the development of trout production, although in smaller quantities mainly for Germany and Spain. It is considered that trout production in the country has already been optimised.
In 2004 the production of common carp amounted to 925 tonnes, or 28 percent of total aquaculture production. Carp production fell considerably in 2004 – by 167 tonnes or 15 percent in comparison with the previous year 2003; however it remains large in terms of volume.
The production of Mediterranean mussel in 2004 went through a significant increase compared to 2003 in the specialized farms (about 8 times), reaching 118 tonnes. However, the percentage of production from mariculture is still very low in comparison with the total aquaculture production. In 2004 it was 3.5 percent.
The relative share of carp (37.6 percent), trout (35.5 percent), Chinese carps (12 percent) and wels catfish and channel catfish (6.2 percent) amounts in total to an average of 91‑92 percent of the annual production of freshwater fish in the country. At an average price of US$ 2 653/tonne the value of production amounted to US$ 6 791 680 in 2003 (1 US$=1.96 BGN) while in 2004 it was US$ 10 497 344 (1 US$=1.609 BGN).
The production of fish for consumption and stocking purposes in fish farms is expected to rise over the following years. This prediction is motivated by the increasing growth in the number of registered specialized farms for rearing fish and other water organisms as a result of the increased interest in such activities. The fact that the sector is given financial support under the Special Accession Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development for the Republic of Bulgaria “Sapard” for financing in the pre-accession period of Bulgaria to the EU, experts a positive influence.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Bulgaria according to FAO statistics:
To introduce the principles of the EU market to the Bulgarian market to allow fish and fish products export and import, the adoption of regulations concerning the sale of fish and other water organisms has been included within the Law on Fishery and Aquaculture adopted in 2001. The institution responsible for the introduction and control of market standards for fish and fish products in Bulgaria is the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests through the National Agency on Fishery and Aquaculture (NAFA).
Manufacturers basically sell their aquaculture production on the domestic market and directly supply restaurants, wholesale and retail dealers. Almost 100 percent of the produced quantities of common carp and Chinese carps are sold on the domestic market. Prices are relatively stable and still profitable for bigger producers. The majority of fish produced from coldwater farms (trout species) is destined for foreign markets.
The current marketing system for fish and fish products can be characterized by a fragmented marketing chain between producer and consumer, with the street retail markets playing an increasing role. The supply of freshwater fish species from aquaculture is limited in some regions because of the small number of middlemen with the appropriate equipment, particularly that required for the provisional storage and transportation of live fish. The supply and consumption of fish products in Bulgaria is seasonal in nature.
In 2004 exports from Bulgaria reached 5 630 tonnes of edible fish products from capture fisheries and aquaculture. However there is no data on the share of the exported aquaculture produce. Approximately 25 percent of exports are composed by frozen fish exported to Romania, the former Yugoslavia and Germany. Also among the exports are molluscs, which in 2004 accounted for 46 percent of the volume of total exports; quantity destined mainly for Japan, former Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey.
Fisheries and aquaculture comprise a specific sub-branch within the agriculture sector. The fisheries and aquaculture sectors include the following sub-sectors: freshwater fishery, marine aquaculture, catch in inland dam lakes, catch in the Black Sea, and the production of fish and other water organisms. It accounts for less than 1 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but is of particular importance for the economy and employment in some regions of the country. Fish production consists mainly of Black Sea catches (50 percent of the produced value), aquaculture (29 percent) and catches from the Danube river and inland dam lakes (21 percent). The sector provides employment for large groups of the population in a number of populated areas along the coast of the Danube River and the Black Sea, and in some regions inside the country where fish farms and dam lakes are situated. Over 7 000 farmers are involved (as of 2003 both the licensed individual fishermen in the Black Sea and the Danube river, as well as those dealing with fishery and industrial fishing in the dam lakes in the inland of the country). There is no precise statistical data available on those employed in aquaculture farms only.
The number of licensed enterprises which have adapted their production to comply with the veterinary-sanitary and hygienic requirements of the European Union is constantly increasing, thus enabling Bulgaria to strengthen its position on the European fish markets. Over 80 percent of the enterprises in the freshwater fishery sub-branch have been privatised. Private and public companies, as well as companies with mixed ownership, are functioning in this field.
Over the last couple of years a tendency towards a considerably powerful growth of the country’s economy has been observed. The achieved Gross Added Value (GAV) in the country’s economy in 2003 amounted to BGN 30 089 millions (US$ 15 352 millions). In the “Agriculture and Forests” sector its size is BGN 3 435 millions (US$ 1 753 millions).
According to data from 2004 from the National Statistical Institute the average annual consumption of fish and fish products amounted to up to 4.3 kg per head of the population. The quantity cited is based on observation carried out in households and does not include consumption in restaurants and other catering establishments. There is no data available on the consumption of aquaculture products alone.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (МAF) is the state institution applying a unified state policy in the agricultural sector, managing, coordinating and controlling the state policy in the field of agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, forestry and hunting. The National Agency of Fishery and Aquaculture (NAFA) under the Minister of Agriculture and Forests is an executive body of the central administration for both implementation of the National policy on fishery and aquaculture and for the application of the Law of Fishery and Aquaculture. The Agency applies the fisheries legislature as a whole and coordinates the development of fisheries and aquaculture, the management and control of fish resources, the license and registration regimes of fishing and fish-breeding activities, and control of the rules governing recreational fishery.
The Agency is financed by the national budget, fees from licensing and registration regimes and the collection of compensation for damage caused to fish and other water organisms. There are 27 territorial units of NAFA across the country.
In addition to NAFA there exist other structures of the MAF that support the basic activities of the Agency. Two main manufacturing associations operate in the sector – the National Federation of Fishery and Aquaculture (NFFA) and the Association of Manufacturers of Fish Products (BG FISH), which represent the fish producers in their contact with the authorities, and protect the commercial, social and all other professional rights of its members.
The following governing regulations apply to the aquaculture sector:
Fisheries and aquaculture research and educational activities are carried out in research institutes and universities. Bachelor, Masters and PhD degrees are offered both as residential courses or abroad studies. Short-term and correspondence courses in the field of aquaculture are also offered.
List of major governmental aquaculture research institutes and universities offering university degrees and training in fisheries and aquaculture.
At the beginning of the 1990s the Bulgarian agriculture sector went through a considerable reform and experienced great changes. The reform of agricultural production in Bulgaria after 1990 also affected the aquaculture sector in the following ways:
In the process of transition of the country towards a market economy and changed social-economic conditions, there was a fall in the production of fish from aquaculture, and this is turn resulted in a fall in processing, sales and the consumption of fish products. For the period 1988‑1993 a gradual decrease (up to 20 percent) in the production of freshwater fish was observed. The lowest volume of output of 1 614 tonnes was registered in 2001. After a relative stabilization of the economic situation in the country over recent years, a growth in aquaculture production has been noted. In 2003 a growth of about 3 000 tonnes was recorded. This increase was maintained in 2004 when the volume of production of freshwater fish rose to 3 300 tonnes. Over recent years the structure of property has been considerably changed as a result of privatisation. Over 80 percent of the enterprises in the aquaculture sub-branch have been privatised. The number of registered private aquaculture farms for rearing fish and other water organisms has also grown significantly. The greatest growth during the last two years has been registered in the production of marine aquaculture. In spite of the registered increase in aquaculture production in the last two years, the accession of Bulgaria to the EU in 2007 has raised a number of questions referring to different spheres of legislation, maintaining the ecological balance and variety of species, the application of environmentally-friendly technologies, strict veterinary control, etc. The drawing up and adoption of a medium-term strategy for a steady development of the fishery and aquaculture sector is being implemented. A major issue is the regulation of the foreign-trade regime which is being liberalized and European norms are being adopted. However, together with that certain specific conditions and opportunities for the protection of local production are about to be preserved. Those involved in the sector will be informed about the opportunities for the use of structural funds in the field of fisheries and aquaculture after the accession of Bulgaria to the EU and about the requirements they should meet. Explanatory campaigns directed to all aquaculture stakeholders will be organized by the national administration.
The following trends in development within the different parts of aquaculture sector have been noted over recent years:
Fish production and processing
Training, scientific research
Aps R., Sharp, R., Kutonova, T. 2004. Freshwater Fisheres in Central & Eastern Europe: the Challenge of Sustainability, IUCN, Overview Report, Warsaw, pp. 94.
Grozev, Gr., Petrov, P. 1989. State, tendencies and perspectives for the development of the freshwater fisheries in Bulgaria. Proc. International Symposium "Problems of the intensification in the freshwater fisheries”, Plovdiv, pp.7-19.
Staykov, J. et al. 2002. Aquaculture in Bulgaria: State, problems, strategy and perspectives for development. Proc. Symposium “Problems in the animal production in Bulgaria”, St. Zagora, 139-172