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The main type of aquaculture carried out in Cyprus is marine aquaculture and the outlook for its expansion is positive. Mariculture is currently carried out exclusively on the southern coasts of the country and the culture method utilized is open sea cage culture. In 2015 the main marine species commercially cultured were the gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata) and European seabass (Dicentrachus labrax). The total production of seabream and seabass in percentages was 67 and 31.6 percent, respectively. The following species are also produced in much smaller quantities (1 percent): meagre (Argyrosomus regius) and the Indian white prawn (Penaeus indicus). The production of marine fish has been showing an increasing trend over the last few years.
Freshwater fish production is also carried out to some extent. The main freshwater fish cultured on a commercial basis is the rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Some small quantities of Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser baerii) have also been produced commercially for the first time in 2009. The production of trout has been stable over recent years, but is directly influenced by climatic conditions such as drought which may have an impact on the availability of water and consequently on production.
The marine sector employs a number of specialized scientific personnel as well as technical staff with different specialties while trout farms employ staff with minimum technical knowledge. Trout culture, in conjunction with local trout restaurants, contributes to employment opportunities in mountainous and rural areas.
In terms of volume, in 2015 aquaculture accounts for approximately 81 percent of fisheries production in Cyprus and in terms of value approximately 78 percent. It also accounts for an important part of the fish and fisheries products consumed in Cyprus. Of the annual 22.125 kilograms per capita consumption of fish and fisheries products, aquaculture products account for about 2.5 kilograms.
The total aquaculture production in 2015 reached 5 458 tonnes of table size fish including 18.9 tonnes of shrimp and 40.7 tonnes of trout. In addition, 36 million marine fish fry were produced. The total value of aquaculture products in 2015 reached EUR 39.2 million.
The expansion and diversification of products from marine and freshwater farms is a priority for the future viability of the sector. There is an increased focus on exports as the domestic market is unable to absorb all the local production. A multiannual national aquaculture strategic plan has been drawn up and includes a series of strategic aims for the aquaculture sector. As the capture fisheries production is declining, and the demand for some traditional fisheries products is increasing, it is within the aims of the aquaculture sector to increase production by introducing the culture of new species as well as to diversify, through processing, the range of products available on the market.
Aquaculture in Cyprus started in 1969 with attempts to develop trout farming in the Troodos mountain range. The experimental freshwater fish culture station of the Fisheries and Marine Research Department (DFMR) was established at Kalopanayiotis and initially served as a pilot research station. Three years later the first private commercial trout farms became operational. Today trout is cultured mostly in raceways by using flow through systems.
The first attempts with marine aquaculture were made in 1972 when the construction of a marine research station was initiated by the DFMR at Gastria, on the east coast of Cyprus, about 15 km northeast of Famagusta. In 1974 the Government lost access to the station due to the Turkish invasion. Research work in marine aquaculture continued between 1978-1989 in the Paphos Harbour where the DFMR successfully operated a small hatchery for the experimental reproduction of marine fish, mainly the European seabass, gilthead seabream, white seabream (Diplodus sargus) and marbled spinefoot (Siganus rivulatus). Broodstock was reared in small cages in the harbour area. A new experimental marine aquaculture station at Meneou, near Larnaka airport, was built by the DFMR in 1989 and all marine aquaculture research activities were resumed there. The station has a hatchery and small grow-out land facilities. In 2012, the marine research station was completely reconstructed and modernized and its name was changed to “Cyprus Marine Aquaculture Research Station (CyMARS)”.
The first private commercial marine fish hatchery began production in 1986, producing gilthead seabream and European seabass fingerlings. The first marine fish fattening unit, which used land-based coastal installations, started operation in 1988 producing gilthead seabream and European seabass, while the first commercial open sea cage farm was established in 1989. By 1997 a total of eight open sea cage farms were in operation on the south coast of the island. In 2004 there were four private marine fish hatcheries in operation, one land-based shrimp hatchery/farm and six private offshore cage farms. In order to diversify aquaculture, three licenses for fattening the Atlantic bluefin tuna were given, one in 2003 and two in 2005.
In 2015, there were in operation (licensed) nine marine open sea cage farms culturing mainly European seabass and gilthead seabream, three marine hatcheries, one land-based shrimp hatchery/farm, and seven small trout farms.
The employes in the aquaculture sector in 2015 were 389 (292 males and 97 females). The majority employed in marine aquaculture sector (363) and a smaller number in the freshwater sector (26). Employment includes both full-time and part-time and covers production, administration and marketing.
Marine aquaculture employs specialized scientific personnel who have completed relevant studies in tertiary educational institutions, as well as technical personnel with various technical backgrounds. Trout and sturgeon farms employ a small number of individuals with overall technical knowledge and are usually run as small family businesses. Two of the seven trout farms operate in conjunction with adjacent restaurants. Trout farming creates employment opportunities in the mountainous and rural areas. It is estimated that the aquaculture sector also provides indirect employment for more than 200 people in ancillary professions.
There are currently nine private offshore cage farms in operation. One of them is located in Limassol, seven in the Moni – Vasilikos - Zygi area (east of Limassol) and one in Liopetri (east of Larnaca). Three private marine fish hatcheries are also in operation: one located in Akrotiri (west of Limassol), one in Paphos and one in Liopetri. The seven small trout farms are located in the Troodos mountain range and the shrimp hatchery/farm is located in Akrotiri (west of Limassol). All marine fish farms are situated in the southern coast of the island.
The main species of marine fish cultured or fattened during the last few years on a commercial basis are the gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata), the European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax), and the Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus). The tuna fattening units, which utilize fish caught (capture based aquaculture) are inactive since 2008 due to the fishing season restrictions and the quota limitations as set by ICCAT and the EU. The following species are also produced in much smaller quantities: meagre (Argyrosomus regius), common pandora (Pagellus erythrinus) and Indian white prawn (Penaeus indicus). The only freshwater species cultured on a commercial basis for human consumption is the rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and small quantities of the Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser baerii). Most of the marine species cultured are native to the Mediterranean Sea except for the Indian white prawn which is considered an alien species. Cyprus does not have any endemic freshwater species, except from the European eel (Anguilla anguilla), due to its limited freshwater resources. After the construction of dams and reservoirs all freshwater species, including the ones being cultured, were introduced during the 1960s and have been on the island ever since.
The marine fish hatcheries operate on an intensive basis in coastal regions. Hatcheries use a flow through system where the water used is pumped into the unit from coastal wells or from the sea. Effluent waters pass through filtration and settling ponds before being released back into the sea.
Over the last few years both hatcheries and grow out units (offshore cage farms) have undergone technical upgrading and expansion. This upgrading and adoption of new technology as well as the increase in the production resulted in improved efficiency and reduction of production cost. This consequently lead in establishing better economies of scale in the effort of the aquaculture units to become more competitive both on national and international level.
Trout is produced in land-based intensive systems (raceways). Trout farms also use a flow through system by utilizing ground water or water that comes directly from rivers or reservoirs. The water undergoes filtration by passing through settling ponds or tanks before being released back into the environment.
The shrimp farm is unique in its kind in the Mediterranean in terms of the biotechnology that it has developed. Shrimps are produced in a land-based system by using lined earthen ponds. Its hatchery operation is similar to the other marine hatcheries.
In 2015, fish production reached 5 454.5 tonnes. This comprised mainly 3 656 tonnes of gilthead seabream and 1 726 tonnes of European seabass. In addition, 40.7 tonnes of trout and 18.9 tonnes of shrimp and 36.1 millions of marine fish fry were produced. The total value of aquaculture products in 2015 reached EUR 39.2 millions (USD 41.6 millions) (see Table 1).
Aquaculture production by species for 2015 (table size fish and fry).
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Cyprus according to FAO statistics:
Over 60 percent of the local marketing of marine aquaculture production is carried out through the traditional network of producers - fish retailers. The intermediary maximizes profit at the expense of both the consumer and producer. Although the prices of farmed products are lower than the prices of wild caught specimen, the retail price is increased which has a negative effects on their consumption.
Aquaculture companies operate their own processing and packaging facilities which have been approved by the Government (Veterinary Services) and comply with relevant EU regulations and directives. Cyprus, due to its size, has the capacity to offer high quality products to the consumer in very short periods of time. It can further provide consumers with fisheries products at low prices, thus making them accessible to a larger number of households.
The vertical integration of marine fish farming units has recently taken place. In addition, the ongoing purchasing and upgrading of retail fish shops by fish farming companies may contribute to improved marketing as well as an increase in the quantity of aquaculture products locally sold. Over the past three-four years, the local market for gilthead seabream in particular, but also for the European seabass, has been relatively stable.
Additionally marine aquaculture in Cyprus is export oriented. Approximately 60 percent of the total production of table size products are exported in several countries. Aquaculture products in Cyprus are the third most important export product, in terms of value, of the national primary production sector.
Most of the trout is marketed directly by the trout farmers, fresh or smoked, or in association with restaurants. Due to the small production per farm, the cost of production is high, resulting in high selling prices, compared to prices in other European Countries. All farms have harmonized their harvesting, packaging and distribution systems according to European Union hygiene directives, by constructing suitable, high technology packaging and processing as well as marketing facilities.
The Fisheries is an important activity in Cyprus, despite the fact that it makes a relatively small contribution to its Gross National Production (GNP), not exceeding 0.3 percent. Aquaculture, currently accounts for approximately 81 percent of total fisheries production by volume, and approximately 78 percent by value. Approximately 1 500 individuals are directly occupied in the fisheries sector as fishermen or farmers, or in the processing sub-sector. Additionally approximately 1 000 individuals are also indirectly employed in ancillary professions such as boat building, fish retailing, technical maintenance and importing fishing gear and equipment.
The contribution of the aquaculture sub-sector to the economy of the country has increased considerably over the last decade. Marine aquaculture has had the fastest growth due to the marketing of its products locally and abroad. Investment in this sector is likely to increase, thereby ensuring further growth with respect to the new market conditions as they develop and form. Investment is expected to occur mainly in marine aquaculture which has the best prospects for growth.
In 2015, as a result of the total value of exported aquaculture products, the trade balance in fisheries products improved considerably. This result reflects and emphasizes the importance of aquaculture in the rural primary sector and to the economy of Cyprus.
Aquaculture in Cyprus is governed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment, through the Department of Fisheries and Marine Research (DFMR) which currently has a staff of 90. The DFMR' has its headquarters in Nicosia and five district units, located in the five coastal regions of Paphos, Limassol, Larnaca, Zygi, and Paralimni. There are also two research stations at Meneou and Kalopanayiotis specialized in research and development of marine and freshwater aquaculture, respectively. The DFMR laboratories carry out work in fish biology, marine ecology, contaminant concentration in marine organisms, seawater analysis, etc.
The field work as well as monitoring and inspection capabilities of the DFMR are supported by four large and three small inflatable well-equipped vessels.
The DFMR consists of five divisions:
In 2015 the main activities of the DFMR focused in implementing the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund 2014-2020 (EMFF). The fund is being utilized for planning and management, as well as the development of the fisheries sector. Technical and financial support is also granted to aquaculturists in the framework of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and EMFF. Two specific measures included in the Cypriot Strategic Plan which relate to and are expected to further promote and support the aquaculture industry are: (1) development of aquaculture, and (2) development of the processing and marketing sector for fisheries and aquaculture products. The first measure aims at the sustainable and balanced development of aquaculture, mainly in the coastal areas, but also in the mountainous regions, to maximize its contribution to domestic fisheries production according to the needs of the local and international market.
The first set of measures aim in assisting existing farms increasing their production and efficiency through modernization of facilities and equipment as well as encouraging the establishment of new farms. The second set of measures aim in improving the supply of the fisheries and aquaculture products to the market and increase their utilization.
This will be achieved by means of:
Strict laws and regulations control the granting of permits and the operation of all fish farms. All permits are granted after submission and approval of a stringent environmental impact assessment study. Marine farms are further obliged by law to submit an environmental monitoring report every six months (winter and summer). Such monitoring is carried out in accordance with directives issued by the DFMR and includes sampling and analyses of the water column and the macrobenthos from several stations at fixed distances from the farms. Monitoring is carried out by independent scientists or companies approved by the DFMR.
The main regulations governing aquaculture are the following:
The DFMR operates two research stations, one at Meneou (Larnaca) for marine aquaculture and one at Kalopanayiotis (in the Troodos Mountains) for freshwater aquaculture. The Cyprus Marine Aquaculture Research Center (CyMARC) carries out research and development related to marine aquaculture diversification. CyMARC is the only research station dedicated to marine aquaculture research in Cyprus. It participates in numerous European and other research programmes and promotes research and development in the sector of marine aquaculture. Specifically, the research programmes of the CyMARC are mainly focused on the reproduction, mass production and commercial rearing of the so called “new species” i.e. marbled spinefoot (Siganus rivulatus), common pandora (Pagellus erythrinus), common dentex (Dentex dentex), greater amberjack (Seriola dumerilii), meagre (Argyrosomus regius) and common octopus (Octopus vulgaris). Apart from that, it is the center for treatment and care of injured marine wild turtles (Caretta caretta, Chelonia mydas). The Kalopanayiotis Station operates mainly as a fish hatchery station for the supply of trout and sturgeon fingerlings for the private fish farms located in Troodos mountain as well as for stocking the dams for the propmotion of recreational angling. In the Kalopanayiotis Research Station, it is taking place with success the reproduction of trouts (Oncorhynchus mykiss, Salmo trutta) and Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser baerii). Several species of carp (i.e. Cyprinus carpio, Carassius carassius) and goldfish (Carassius auratus) are also cultured. The Kalopanayiotis Research Station is responsible for the management of the biodiversity of the inland waters (fish stocking), the recreational fisheries and supplies the freshwater aquaculture private firms with trout and sturgeon fingerlings.
Some private marine fish farms also cooperate with the DFMR on genetic improvement programmes (selective breeding) with a view to improve the performance of fingerlings in terms of survival and growth rates.
In the past ten years, aquaculture policy has focus on sustainable development, increased production and diversification of cultured species. The sustainable expansion of the sector and diversification of production from both marine and freshwater farms is still a priority. The achievement of economies of scale will lower production costs, however a large part of the production will have to be exported since the local market is not in a position to absorb all the production. The species currently cultured will unlikely ensure the sustainability of the sector. Further expansion and species diversification is necessary for the long-term viability of the sector.
The consumption of fish, particularly fresh fish, is expected to increase in Cyprus due to the rise in living standards, along with an understanding of the nutritional and health values of fish. Marketing campaigns will certainly contribute to the growth of the local market and an increase in consumption may be achieved if high quality fisheries products reach the consumer at affordable prices. The price of farmed marine finfish continues to be attractive to consumers. Some consumers still have reservations on consuming cultured fish particularly with regards to hygiene and quality of the product, but this is mainly due to lack of information and a good marketing strategy.
The enlargement of the domestic market has been activated by the involvement of the major supermarkets in the traditional system of marketing, whereby fish products become more easily accessible to households. Packaging and marketing are increasingly carried out in locations of high specification which conform to relevant EU directives. Diversification of fisheries products through aquaculture is expected to have a beneficial impact on consumption.
The import of preserved or processed fisheries products has been increasing with a recorded 130 percent increase in the period 1988-1998. In general, consumers have developed a marked preference for pre-packaged ready-to-eat products. This development is facilitated by the increased role of supermarkets in the distribution of fisheries (including aquaculture) products.
A global strategy for the fisheries sector, is to attain a competitive and sustainable commercial fishing and aquaculture industry, capable of offering consumers high quality products, meeting market demands and successfully facing both the European challenge and broader international competition. The main objective of the plan is the sustainable development of aquaculture in coastal areas and in the mountainous regions in order to maximize its contribution to the domestic fisheries production. Due to the needs of the aquaculture sector, the main strategic needs identified are:
Aquaculture Annual Report. 2015 . Department of Fisheries and Marine Research, Republic of Cyprus.
Operational Programme for Fisheries. 2007-2013 . Planning Bureau, Republic of Cyprus.
Operatinal Programme “Thalassa” 2014 - 2020. Planning Bureau, Republic of Cyprus.
Multiannual Aquaculture National Strategic Plan 2014 -2020.