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.
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.
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.
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.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Georgia according to FAO statistics:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
FAO . 2005 . Aquaculture production, 2004. Year book of Fishery Statistics - Vol.96/2. Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
Barach, G.P. 1962 . Black Sea salmon. Publishing Academy of Sciences of Georgia, Tbilisi. 122 pp.
Eastfish. 1999 . Eastfish Fishery Industry, Georgia. Vol. 16, by G. Nekerashvili, V. Tsuladze & N. Nadiradze. FAO/Eastfish. 65 pp.
Elanidze, R. 1983 . Georgian Soviet Fishery Encyclopaedia. Main scientific redaction, t. 6, pp. 547-548. Tbilisi.
FAO. 2004 . The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. Rome.
Gudimovich & Vakhvakhishvili, N.I 1952 . Description of the southeastern fishing district of the Black Sea (Georgian territorial waters). Batumi, Russian Federal Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO). Archive Fund of the Institute. (manuscript)
Ivanov, A.P. , Kosireva, R.Y. & Cirkova, M.I. 1976 . Ways of increasing efficiency of salmon farming in southern districts. VNIRO, Vol. 113, pp. 46-55.