Aquaculture was a well-established activity in Georgia by the 1950s, with culture based inland fisheries the most significant aquaculture activity in Georgia. Current aquaculture production is limited to trout culture from flow-through systems at small-scale farms and culture-based inland fisheries in ponds, lakes and reservoirs. These inland water bodies are restocked with fingerlings produced by aquaculture hatcheries, the main species produced being common and grass carp. However, the number of farms and hatcheries used to restock water bodies has gradually declined.
According to the official register of the Ministry of Agriculture, there are 84 inland water bodies (ponds and reservoirs) with a total surface of 3 200 ha used for aquaculture purposes, but almost all of them are operating at about one-half to one-third of their potential capacity. Figures from the State Statistical Department in early 2004 indicated that there were also approximately 295 small, family owned fish farms with a total area of approximately 560 ha.
There are also 25 officially registered small trout farms, producing mainly rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss ), however, it is estimated that an additional 25-30 farms exist but are not registered.
Although total aquaculture production is not impressive, fifteen reservoirs and twenty lakes, with a total water surface of approximately 30 000 ha provide good potential for freshwater aquaculture development.
Aquaculture is in its early stages, but it offers good potential for increasing production of a diverse range of species in both inland waters and the marine environment and for alleviating poverty in rural areas. A range of specific objectives for developing the sector has been described, tasks and responsibilities between the different government institutions are defined and a new law on fisheries and aquaculture is currently being drawn up. There is a need to establish formal fisheries and aquaculture education and training facilities in Georgia.
The development of aquaculture in Georgia began in the 1930s. From the outset, aquaculture included fish culture activities in lakes, reservoirs, certain rivers (Alazani, Mtkvari) and ponds.
During the period 1930-1950 there were about 50 aquaculture farms with a total pond surface area of 2 500 ha in Georgia. Among these farms there were two hatcheries in the west of Georgia and three hatcheries in the east. The hatcheries were responsible for the reproduction, grow-out and selection of various carp species, among others, common carp (Cyprinus carpio ), silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix ), bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis ) and grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus ).
In the 1980s, aquaculture became a less important source of fish as a result of the marine capture fisheries increasing considerably. In particular, from the 1950s to the 1980s the number of aquaculture farms declined from around 50 to below 20. In the mid-1980s there were 13 fish farms carrying out pond cultivation of common carp. Only two fish farms were involved in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss ) culture. Fifteen reservoirs and 20 lakes with a total water surface of around 30 000 ha were used for the grow-out to market size of freshwater fish.
From 1991, the difficult economic and social situation in the country, lack of financial resources, inflexible banking and credit policies, as well as loss of the former consumer market of the former Soviet Republics, all this had an extremely negative impact on the Georgian economy in general, and on the fisheries sector in particular.
At the beginning of the 1990s aquaculture farms and specific lakes suitable for aquaculture were privatized, unfortunately, the farms sometimes came into the hands of farmers who lacked the necessary skills. Due to a lack of finance and fish culture experience some of the farms were turned into agricultural areas, this led to the destruction of hatcheries, ponds and hydro technical structures. Several farms were out of operation for many years, as a result of which total aquaculture production of species of commercial value fell from 300 to 50 tonnes. Some small-scale farms remained and new private owned farms were founded, by the end of the 1990s these farms produced approximately 65 tonnes of fish annually.
According to official fishery sector employment figures from the Department of Statistics for 2004, it is estimated that of a total of 3 200 people working in the fisheries sector, 400 people were employed in aquaculture.
It is widely believed that the official statistics are an underestimation, other unofficial information sources estimate that in 2004 around 3 300 people derived employment and income from aquaculture activities in Georgia. The average age of people employed in this sector is about 40 and the majority are men, while many women are involved in distribution and marketing. Most of the fish farmers have completed different higher technical education, but not in fisheries or related fields.
The total area of Georgia is approximately 69 500 km2 . The country is rich in hydro biological resources and therefore suited to marine and inland capture fisheries and aquaculture activities. There are 25 075 rivers and streams with a total length of 54 768 km with the rivers belonging to the basins of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. There are 860 lakes with a total surface area of 170 km2 and 12 reservoirs with a total surface area of 107 km2 . The country borders the Black Sea to the west and the total length of its coastline is 330 km. Small and medium-sized ponds and tanks are located across the country.
The most widespread species of cold water fish are: common carp (Cyprinus carpio ), silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix ), grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus ), barb (Varicorhinus capoeta ), crucian carp (Carassius carassius ) and the wels catfish (Silurus glanis ).
Trout production is mostly based on rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss ), but some farmers also keep Georgian endemic 'pointed trout' in a very small quantities.
The main commercial fish species restocked and caught in the lakes and reservoirs are: lake trout (Salmo trutta caspius lacustris ), Romanov lake trout (Salmo trutta caspius romanovi ), common carp (Cyprinus carpio ), vendace (Coregonus albula ), European chub (Leuciscus cephalus orientalis ), crucian carp (Carassius carassius ), silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix ), bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis ) and various barbels (Barbus tauricus escherichi, B. capito and B. lacerta cyri ), among others.
Firstly there is the culture of cold water species, such as: carp, grass carp, bighead carp and others in ponds rich in nutrients. Farmers only feed the fish at a very early stage until they reach 100-150 gr and again before harvesting so that the fish develop fat. Common carp and grass carp normally grow to about 2 kg over a May-November production season if good quality fingerlings are used, pond conditions are good, and feeding is carried out. One harvest revealed that two-year old carp were reaching an average of 1.9 kg, less than half the expected yield.
Farmers make feed from yellow ('orange') maize and soya bean oil, some pond operators sometimes mix soya bean oil or fish oil and spoiled wheat. The fish ponds are poorly equipped, most lack even the simplest tools for monitoring pond conditions (thermometers as a minimum, pH indicator, dissolved oxygen content, and water hardness or electrical conductivity). Equipment is even more rudimentary for carp ponds, most of which seem to be poorly maintained. For example most of the carp ponds in western Georgia are infested with European water chestnut (Trapa natans ), this aquatic weed grows quickly, overgrowing ponds and reducing oxygen levels as its vegetation decomposes. Georgian carp farmers do not have enough money to provide sufficient feed to maintain carp growth rates, they thus have to resort to controlling this weed by hand. Because some pond complexes can cover a hundred hectares, labour costs for weed control soon build up quickly. The water chestnut seeds retain their viability for up to 12 years, ensuring that labour costs for weed pulling will be substantial, moreover, most carp ponds are supplied with water from rivers, most of which have extensive marshy areas which are the native habitat of the water chestnut.
Another type of aquaculture practice is that of trout farming in concrete tanks , in the beginning trout broodstock and seed material were imported from Turkey and occasionally from the United States. The number of trout farms together with hatching facilities is now growing rapidly. Even though the survival rate is low (30 percent or less), it is more feasible for trout farmers to carry out their own hatching, than to purchase seed material. Trout farmers use feed pellets graded by size to match the size of the trout. The main source of feed is from Turkey and provides a basic level of nutrition with some vitamins and an undisclosed amino acid composition. Some fish farms prefer to use Italian trout food, the Italian manufactured pellets appear to be more nutritious, have a well-described amino acid profile, a broader set of antioxidants, anti fungal additives and preservatives to reduce breakdown in pellet quality during storage. The Italian pellets are more expensive than the Turkish feed but have a 30 percent higher conversion rate than the Turkish pellets. Since the basic 200 g trout is sold at about the same price at all outlets, this indicates that overall industry productivity and profitability could be increased through bulk purchasing of higher quality feed.
According to the FAO reported statistics, in 2004 total aquaculture production was 72 tonnes of fish, corresponding to US$ 191 000
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Georgia according to FAO statistics:
There are specialised fish markets in every major city in Georgia. In coastal areas, there are fish markets in Batumi, Poti, Ureki and Matakva. Some of the fish markets are privately owned, for example Batumi, which offers clean and hygienic facilities, other fish markets are owned, managed and maintained by the community/city authorities. The largest food market is in Tbilisi where some 20 retailers daily sell fishery products originating from catches by the national fleet, from aquaculture and from imports. The variety of fish offered includes sprats, sardines, mackerel, seabream, flathead mullet, hake, salmon, crawfish, sturgeon, carp, trout and others. A considerable part of the fish for sale is imported (e.g. frozen salmon from Norway), trout and carp are the only domestic aquaculture products available on the market. It is believed that in the metropolitan area of Tbilisi some 50 fish retailers are active daily in the various markets, the total sales of fishery products by market retailers in Tbilisi is estimated to be between 5 and 6 tonnes per day in summer and between 10 and 12 tonnes in winter. Cold storage facilities exist in Tbilisi, Kutasi and Poti and are used for the storage of fish as well as other food items.
The relatively more expensive fishery products, such as sturgeon, salmon and trout, are often sold direct to restaurants by intermediaries and aquaculture producers, as restaurants constitute the main market for these species.
The market share of supermarkets in Tbilisi and other major cities in Georgia in the sale of fishery products is increasing steadily. Fishery products are generally more expensive in supermarkets than in city food markets and specialised fish markets. An increasing number of more affluent citizens (particularly in Tbilisi) have a preference for repacked imported products which are generally considered to be of better quality. The Khvamli supermarket in Tbilisi sells live trout, which is in great demand, and daily delivery is guaranteed.
Common and grass carp reared through aquaculture are mainly marketed in rural areas, small quantities reach the markets of Tbilisi and other big cities during the main harvest periods. Trout produced by aquaculture farms is sold mainly in Tbilisi.
The price of fishery products tends to fluctuate throughout the year, the price of fresh fish is generally lower in winter than in the summer, so demand for fresh fish is higher in winter. Canned fishery products generally sell better in summer.
To satisfy domestic demand for fishery products, imports have been increasing in recent years both in terms of volume and value. Most of these imported products come from Armenia (fresh, salted, frozen and smoked trout), Azerbaijan (frozen and smoked sturgeon), Turkey (smoked mackerel and bonito) and Russia (various species in frozen, salted and tinned products). More than 95 percent of fishery imports in 2003, both in volume and value were in frozen form. The main imported species was mackerel.
Exports of fishery products have fluctuated widely in recent years. In terms of value, exports of fishery products by Georgia are small.
Freshwater capture fisheries and fish farming is important to the livelihoods of villages in remote areas of Georgia, increased fish consumption would improve the protein diet of rural Georgians, but much more detailed studies would be needed to assess whether the benefits of increased access to fish would outweigh the costs of developing hatcheries, a delivery infrastructure and labour to intensify the stocking of fish in streams and lakes. More capital-intensive projects, such as trout farming in areas of mountain streams, would need to be evaluated against their capacity to cover production and maintenance costs as a minimum.
Current data suggests that fish consumption in Georgia may be on the increase, however, it seems unlikely that per capita consumption is as high as the 7 kg/person that is estimated.
It is more likely that Georgians have substituted other protein sources for the relatively high levels of fish (18 kg/person) which were consumed during Soviet times. In an economy where subsistence dominates in rural areas, it is likely that lower cost sources of animal protein have gained in preference. This would include a shift in consumption towards poultry (chickens, ducks, geese) because of their high feed conversion ratio and because they provide meat and eggs.
Over the last decade the Government of Georgia did not consider the fishery sector important and as a result the sector received limited funding. There was no clear division of tasks and responsibilities between the different government institutions, however, after the Rose Revolution in November 2003 the situation began to improve. Responsibilities are now as follows:
1. Ministry of Agriculture (MoA)
In addition, a non-governmental organization: The Georgian Fish and Georgian Fisherman's Association was recently established, most of its members are active fish farmers and fishermen.
Georgia currently does not have a fisheries law, however, it has recently taken various legal and administrative initiatives that have resulted in the adoption of a number of laws and regulations that address the fisheries sector in various ways.
These laws and regulations cover a wide range of areas.
At the beginning of 2000 the MoA started to prepare a new fisheries law, the drafting of this new law stopped for some time because of lack of expertise in the Ministry. In 2004 the drafting process continued with inputs from specialised international lawyers, fishery sector stakeholders, experts from various ministries and national legal experts from a FAO Technical Cooperation project activity (TCP\GEO\2904). An almost final draft law was made available at the beginning of 2005, but recent basic changes in the structure of the MoA and the Georgian legal framework has made the Law useless. The Ministry of Agriculture, together with fisheries stakeholders, is currently developing a new law on fisheries and aquaculture, it will be presented to parliament during its spring sessions in 2006.
There are currently no formal fisheries or aquaculture education and training facilities in Georgia. Both university education and vocational school/practical training lack a fisheries component, this will have consequences in the medium and long term for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture development in the country. The lack of university education in fisheries is a problem that could be addressed through cooperation with universities in neighbouring countries (e.g. Ukraine, the Russian Federation and Turkey) and European countries where fisheries education at higher level already exists. However, the lack of a vocational school for practical training in fisheries and aquaculture would be more appropriately addressed within Georgia. MEFRI, located in Batumi, conducts scientific research into marine stocks and biodiversity together with the Ukrainian Department of Fisheries. The overall aim is to restore the overexploited resources along the Georgian Black Sea coastline.Informal training is currently provided in marine fisheries by sailors and captains and in aquaculture by fish farmers. However their knowledge is often based on acquired knowledge and practical skills from doing the jobs. Modern technologies and insights are generally not part of their capacity building activities.
The Institute of Zoology at the Georgian Academy of Sciences has carried out scientific research in Georgian inland waters to determine their hydrobiological resources. The Institute aims to study the main species in Georgia and undertake hydrobiological and ichthyologic research into inland reservoirs.
Over the last few years, research institutes have managed to send some of their staff abroad for M.Sc. and doctorate studies, funded by foreign donor institutions and projects. In this way they have been able to increase the capacity of the staff. Unfortunately, the number of positions available is low and the scholarships offered are, in principle, only temporary. It is generally felt that an educational system should be established in Georgia to create awareness among young people of opportunities in the fishery sector and provide an adequate, tailor-made and modern education for those who are interested in working in the fisheries sector or wish to increase their skills in certain aspects of fisheries. Such a formal system would make it easier for fisheries research institutes and fishing enterprises to recruit young professionals to work in the sector, because it is currently extremely difficult to find young professionals with interest and the appropriate skills.
The overall objective is to develop an aquaculture sector which produces a variety and quantity of good-quality products demanded by the market in an environmentally sustainable way. The issues to be addressed are, among others, culture methods, production, poverty in rural areas, technology and the environmental impact. The demand for aquaculture products on the domestic market is high; Georgia imports relatively large volumes of fishery (including aquaculture) products to meet this demand, because the marine and inland capture fisheries sectors are unable to do this in the short term. Georgians traditionally prefer salmon, sturgeon, freshwater shrimp and other fish and shellfish which could be produced domestically on aquaculture farms. Opportunities also exist for exporting aquaculture products to Russia Federation and other former Soviet countries.
Aquaculture is still in its early stages. It has good possibilities for increasing production of a diverse range of species in both inland waters and the marine environment. Research into hatchery techniques, fish health management, fish feeding and feed production is required to bring down further the costs of juveniles and feed and to improve quality.
Aquaculture development is currently limited by the lack of fish feed on the domestic market, the low level of production of eggs and fingerlings and their poor quality and the lack of credit, microfinance and insurance suitable for aquaculture operations. Feed for trout culture is currently imported at a high price, while the fishmeal produced from the national marine capture fisheries could also be used to prepare aquaculture feeds.
There is some potential for the development of marine aquaculture in the Black Sea coastal area. Oysters, mussels, mullet, flatfish, sturgeon and the mollusc Rapana spp. offer prospects, although further research should be conducted in order to design appropriate technologies and suitable methods for the culture of these marine organisms. Pollution of coastal areas is a real danger for any development of aquaculture along the coastline of Georgia, as oil spills and other coastal activities which have a negative effect on water quality are widespread.
Aquaculture could offer good opportunities for rural poverty alleviation, in many parts of Asia and Europe rural aquaculture development is already considered one of the more successful approaches to poverty alleviation. Technological developments in aquaculture in Georgia have been very limited over the last decade and significant impetus is needed to bring Georgian aquaculture up to international level.
The following specific objectives for the development of the sector can be summarised:
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