Freshwater aquaculture is an important and integral part of the Czech agriculture sector. There is particular emphasis on fish pond farming which in the Czech Republic is a traditional form of aquaculture and where there is specialised knowledge. Fish pond farming has deep historical roots and is a national heritage which should be promoted. Czech pond systems also play a fundamental role in landscape water management such as water retention and flood prevention and in the preservation and protection of biodiversity. Ponds also have an important social, cultural and recreational function and this contributes to the sustainable development of living conditions, not only in the relevant region, but also in adjacent regions. Aquaculture production in the Czech Republic is generally characterized by extensive and semi-intensive fish farming in ponds. There are 52 000 ha available for fish farming, of which 41 000 ha are used for fish production. Average production is around 450 kg per ha, with individual farms ranging between 200 to 800 kg/ha. The average yield from ponds depends on many factors such as management measures, altitude, etc. and ranges very broadly from 150 kg in highland extensive ponds to more than one tonne per ha in lowland regions. Annual fish production currently fluctuates between 19 000 to 20 000 tonnes. Common carp is the dominant fish produced (88 percent). Other cultured fish includes grass carp, silver carp, tench, whitefish and predators such as pike, zander, wels , catfish , perch and salmonids such as trout. Recently, ornamental fish (koi carp, goldfish, garden-pond fish and tropical aquarium fish species) have also begun to play a very important and integral role in the total aquaculture production of the Czech Republic, although production figures are not included in the official aquaculture statistics. Based on production figures, the Czech Republic is the world's fourth largest producer and exporter of ornamental and aquarium freshwater fish.
The production of carp is tending towards stagnation. Its market image is quite low and it fails to attract younger consumers. The sector is also vulnerable to imports of cheaper fish from both neighbouring European countries and South East Asia. The future development of Czech fish production should focus on strengthening the domestic market, on increasing focus on product diversification as well as organic and eco-labelled products. Many fish ponds are in a bad condition and require substantial investment. The introduction of intensive recycling systems and investments in modernising processing plants are recommended. Attention should also be focused upon the production of coarse fish for stocking and restocking purposes. Hobby ponds for angling offer new environmentally friendly agro-tourism opportunities.
The first information on fish ponds in the Czech Republic appears in documents from the tenth–elenventh centuries. However, the annual yield in the early ponds was very low (10-20 kg per ha) and it was harvested once every 4-6 years. In the late fourteenth century there were already 75 000 ha of ponds with an estimated production of 2 250 tonnes. At the turn of the sixteenth seventeenth century, the area of ponds had reached up to 180 000 ha and the crop was over 5 000 tonnes. The level of pond farming technologies was comparatively high at that time. Subsequently, fishpond farming started to decline due to frequent wars and the rapid development of agriculture. As a result many ponds were drained, dried and converted into fields. In the early 1930s, the area of ponds was about 45 000 ha with a yield of 3 700 tonnes. This began to increase in recent years towards the level of approximately 17 000-20 000 tonnes today.
Salmonids are intensively raised in raceways, canals, earthen ponds and cages, but make a considerably smaller contribution to the total figures. On average, 600-700 tonnes of portion sized rainbow trout and brook trout are produced annually. Several facilities which utilise waste heat and recycling systems are used for intensive fish culture. In addition, the production of coarse and game fish for angling purposes and the production of ornamental and aquarium fish for hobby purposes are carried out with high efficiency to meet the high market demands.
There are currently 2 600 people employed full-time in the aquaculture sector. The majority of them possess appropriate fisheries-related education from vocational, college and/or university level. Part-time employees are usually hired during the period of pond harvesting only and their number does not exceed several hundred per year.
The pond farming areas are located in all regions of the Czech Republic, except for northern Bohemia. There are 25 companies or owners producing predominantly carp, and to a much lesser extent herbivores, tench, pike, zander and wels. Pond surface area ranges from 143 ha to the largest at 7 428 ha. Production totals range from about 100 kg to 2 872 kg. The largest Czech fish pond farming companies operate in the area of South Bohemia, where more than 70 percent of the total pond area is situated. Four production companies (Rybarstvi Trebon a.s., Rybnikarstvi Hluboka a.s., Rybarstvi Tabor a.s. and Ceske rybarstvi s.r.o.), which have been merged into the Fishery Group Trebon, share 35 percent of Czech carp production. About 25 percent to 30 percent of carp culture uses active feeding. The majority of carp production is based on natural food - zooplankton and zoobenthos. Wheat and barley are the basic feed, whilst pellet feed mixtures represent only 10 percent of feed used in ponds. Recently, the use of manure has been restricted due to enormous eutrophication (algal blooms caused by high nutrient concentrations). Nowadays, organic manure is applied in very small amounts only and lime is mainly used to counter the negative effects.
Trout farming is usually carried out in flow-through concrete and earthen canals and ponds. The farms are located at higher altitudes. Fish culture utilising waste warm-water is only carried out to a limited extent. It produces about one half of the wels catfish production (30 tonnes) and a certain amount of tilapia and African catfish (a total of about 10-30 tonnes).
Polyculture stocks are an important aspect of pond farming in the Czech Republic. Carp is the dominant fish species accounting for almost 90 percent of total aquaculture production. Chinese carps (grass carp, Ctenopharyngodon idellus, bighead carp, Hypophthalmichthys nobilis and silver carp, Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), together with traditional supplementary fish (tench, coregonids) and predatory species (pike, zander, wels catfish and perch) are all produced in ponds. In some highland ponds, rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is also cultured as the main species, supplemented by carp. The majority of trout farms produce rainbow trout, but brook trout, brown trout and grayling are also cultured, particularly for the purpose of stocking angling grounds.
The Czech Association of Fish Farmers (2004) reports total production for 2004 to be 16 503 tonnes, but total figures are estimated to be approximately 20 percent higher.
According to FAO statistics, aquaculture production was as follows:
Live fish (carp in particular) is the most important product from Czech aquaculture, because carp is a traditional Czech dish. The majority is sold on the domestic market and/or exported live. Most sales of live and processed freshwater fish are carried out by subsidiary companies. The sales must comply with all hygiene and veterinary requirements. Because consumers buy carp as a traditional Christmas food, competing products do not seriously threaten sales. The main domestic customers are supermarket chains and restaurants. Since 1990 the amount of live fish sold on the local market has ranged from 8 000 to 9 000 tonnes, with a maximum of 9 900 tonnes in 1992 and a minimum of 7 500 tonnes in 1998. A high proportion of natural foods, extensive production and the practice of holding harvested fish in flow-through storage ponds has enabled Czech carp to acquire a reputation as a quality product on both domestic and external markets. Most fish are sold live (2-3 kg) around Christmas and Easter time. An increasing amount of carp is currently being offered to the domestic market in processed form.
]Fish processing is carried out in 14 facilities. There are also about 25 smaller processing units which only work at full capacity in December to meet the demand for fish products during the Christmas season. These products include frozen, chilled, smoked and marinated fish. The proportion of exported and home-sold processed fish is 8-10 percent. In addition to freshwater fish processing, these facilities also carry out marine fish processing. The trend is towards high consumption of processed fish. This brings with it technological problems and lower profitability for the processing facilities, and complications arising from increased competition in supermarket chains.
The Czech Republic is the largest exporter of carp in Europe. Over 40-50 percent of exports go to the German market and another 20 percent go to the Slovakian market. Around half of the fish production is consumed domestically. Domestically processed fish is exported in small amounts because only a few of the leading processing facilities comply with EU standards. The trademark "Czech Carp" has been developed to support the marketing of carp.
The role of fisheries in the Czech national economy is rather marginal. However, due to Czech history, tradition, and environmental aspects, fisheries have quite a reputable position in the country. Pond farming in lowlands and trout culture at high altitudes play an important social role in maintaining local populations in their native environment. However, this is not currently of any particular importance.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Nutrition is in charge of the administrative control of aquaculture according to the following scheme of responsibilities:Minister of Agriculture → State Secretary → Commodity Section → Section of Agricultural Commodities → Division of Animal Commodities → Department of Fisheries, Gamekeeping and Beekeeping.
Legislation relating to aquaculture is as follows:
The major government aquaculture research institution is the Research Institute of Fish Culture and Hydrobiology Vodnany (University of South Bohemia Ceske Budejovice), which was established in 1921. The activities of the institute focus on basic and applied research in fisheries and fish breeding with a live gene bank. A total of 45 employees are engaged in three research departments (Fish Genetics and Breeding, Aquaculture and Hydrobiology, and Water Toxicology and Fish Diseases) and in supporting divisions. Experimental facilities include fish hatchery, indoor warm-water farming units with recycling and flow-through regimes, specialised laboratories (reproduction, genetics, toxicology, ethology, hydrobiology, chemical analytical lab etc.), two experimental pond systems and several farming ponds (42 ha in total).
With respect to fisheries and aquaculture, the Czech education system covers the whole range from vocational training to university doctoral studies. The Fisheries Vocational Training School at Trebon provides vocational training aimed at basic fish farming skills and manual fish handling skills. The Fisheries College and the Water Management and Ecology College are located at Vodnany. Studies at the Fisheries College focus on education in pond management, fish breeding, intensive aquaculture technologies etc., whilst education targets at the Water Management and Ecology College focus on water management practices and hydro-ecological issues.
University level fisheries studies are provided by the University of South Bohemia in Ceske Budejovice and by Mendel´s University of Agriculture and Forestry in Brno. Graduates gain a MSc. degree in Fisheries and/or in Zootechnics specialised in Fisheries. Both universities also provide PhD studies in topics related to fisheries and aquaculture. The Research Institute of Fish Culture and Hydrobiology at Vodnany, which is an integral part of the University of South Bohemia, has been accredited for doctoral studies in Fisheries in Czech and English languages.
Recent Czech fish production from aquaculture has fluctuated between 17 200 (1998) and 20 100 tonnes (2001). There was a decline in 1995 - 1998, followed by increase in 1999 - 2001 and a slight decline in the last three years, with 19 600 metric tonnes recorded in 2003. The highest production was achieved in 1992 with 20 800 tonnes.
Live fish sales on domestic markets ranged between 7 500 and 9 700 tonnes in 1998 and 1995 respectively. The amount of processed fish fluctuated between 1 400 and 2 100 tonnes in 1997 and 2000 - 2001 respectively. However, this is approximately one half of the figures from the late eighties/early nineties. The current tendency is one of stagnation. Live fish exports ranged between 7 800 and 10 000 tonnes in 1995 and 2001.
On a long-term average, carp production amounts to 86 percent of the total and shows a slightly declining tendency. An increase in production can be noticed particularly in herbivorous fish. A slight increase can also be noticed in highly sought after demanded predatory fish (pike, wels catfish, zander and perch). The production of tench and most recently also of salmonids (rainbow trout and brook trout) is declining. Whitefish (coregonids) production declined progressively during the last several years.
Environmental regulations severely constrain opportunities for some intensive and even semi-intensive culture systems (i.e. fertilisers and feeds cannot be used without special permission in grow-out ponds). The majority of ponds are heavily silted up with flushed soil particles deposited in thick sediments. That considerably reduces the pond production capacity and contributes to overgrowing of the littoral zone with water macrophytes. The only solution for this problem is the consistent removal of excessive mud layers. However, this method is extremely costly and unrealistic and does not receive a state subsidy.
Many fish ponds require substantial investments due to their unsatisfactory condition as a result of the following reasons (in particular):
The market image of carp is quite low and carp consumption, outside the traditional Christmas season, is quite poor. It also fails to attract younger consumers. The sector is vulnerable to imports of cheaper fish from both neighbouring European countries and South East Asia, and also to imports of processed salmonid fish.
The future development of Czech fish production should focus on strengthening the domestic market. Due to the serious interest in maintaining carp as an organic product, it is not realistic to increase carp production per area unit. Attention should be focused upon the production of coarse fish for stocking and restocking purposes. Hobby ponds for angling should offer new environmentally friendly agro-tourism opportunities.
The prospects for further development of the fisheries sector in the Czech Republic are:
Czech Ministry of Agriculture.Situation and Prospective Report Fish, 2003. 43 pp.
Czech Fish Farmers Association. České Budějovice.2004 .Market fish production in member organisations of the Czech Fish Farmers Association in 2003 and fish production usage in 1990-2003.