Aquaculture has been practiced in Hungary since the beginning of the last century. In order to compensate for the decreasing captures from inland fisheries an extensive fish pond construction programme began during this period. The first fish farms in Hungary were established in the 1890s and were modelled on German and Bohemian practices.
Fish production represents only a minor part of the Hungarian economy, in terms of production value it corresponds to 2-2.5 percent of the gross value of animal production. However, Hungarian aquaculture possesses some special characteristics, for example, its world-wide reputation in carp breeding, the value of its R&D (Research and Development) and its special role in water management, nature conservation, water-related tourism and rural development. Total fish production from both aquaculture and capture fisheries was 18 324 tonnes in 2002, the proportion from aquaculture being approximately 63 percent or 11 574 tonnes. The majority (93 percent) of aquaculture production derives from fish ponds, where both extensive and semi-intensive technologies, based on the utilisation of natural food, are commonly applied. The total area covered by fish ponds in Hungary is approximately 28 000 ha with the major species farmed being common and Chinese carps, common carp (Cyprinus carpio ) represents 74 percent of the total fish production in Hungary. Use of geothermal water resources offers good possibilities for the development of intensive aquaculture, around 7 percent of production comes mainly from geothermal water intensive systems, in which the major species farmed is the North African catfish (Clarias gariepinus ). Aquaculture products are sold mainly on domestic markets which account for approximately 90 percent by volume, the main export product is live fish which represented 91 percent of the total export volume in 2002. The fish processing industry is undeveloped in Hungary with only about 10-15 percent of the total domestic fish production reaching the market in processed form.
The legal and institutional background to aquaculture development in Hungary is relatively well established. Particularly the Fish Producer's Association provides valuable assistance to aquaculture development. However, there is need for the implementation of more joint R&D projects between research institutions and fish producers, and aquaculture information systems also require further development.
The history of fisheries in Hungary goes back to the sixteenth and seventeenth century when fish production was common in all river basins and wetlands, however, with the introduction of animal husbandry and the intensification of agricultural practices for crops, much of the lands were drained and most of the rivers were ‘channelled’ by flood protection dikes. In order to compensate for the decreasing production from capture fisheries in natural waters, an extensive fish pond construction programme was initiated at the turn of the Twentieth century. The first fish farms in Hungary were established in the 1890s modelled on German and Bohemian practices and the first ‘selected’ carp varieties were also obtained from these countries. The total area covered by fish ponds was about 9 200 ha in 1938. As a result of a new fish pond construction programme following the Second World War, the total fish pond area reached 22 000 ha by 1975.
Following cooperation between farmers and scientists remarkable results have been gained in the development of fish pond technologies in Hungary particularly with regard to the fertilisation of fish ponds, reproductive biology and artificial propagation as well as integrated fish-duck production. Some of the Hungarian methods have gained world-wide acceptance in carp producing countries and have been utilised throughout the world.
The labour requirement in fish pond culture is not high and consequently labour productivity indices are relatively good compared to other sectors, a significant proportion of the work is seasonal (peaking in spring and autumn). In 1999 the number of employees working in the fisheries sector was 2 640 (Bardócz et al ., 2003).
Fig. 1. Distribution and characteristics of the main aquaculture production sites by administrative units (National data, 2001)
The numbers of fish farms operating in 2001 using either pond culture or intensive farming systems are shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Number of fish farms in Hungary (2001)
Source: Fish Product Council, 2002
Farm sizes range from 6 to 130 ha for family farms, from 30 to 850 ha for co-operatives and between 45–4 100 ha for privately owned companies. Companies owning farms of more than 1 000 ha account for a total of 9 000 ha within Hungary, these include two joint stock companies and two limited liability companies. Farms within the 400–1 000 ha category account for a total area of 4 343 ha and include four co-operatives, two limited liability companies, and a joint stock company. In other words 11 companies own a total of 59 percent (13 400 ha) of the total pond area while the rest (41 percent) is managed by 119 ventures.
The geographical, water and climatic conditions in Hungary are favourable for traditional pond fish husbandry and in some cases for intensive fish production. The favourable ecological conditions and the available technological knowledge provide an appropriate basis for the sector to develop a more important role within Hungarian agriculture. Hungary's carp production is the third largest in Europe, its carp production technology is also used in other countries and its experts participate in aquaculture development programs all over the world.The major farmed species are common carp (Cyprinus carpio ) and Chinese carps, around 7 percent of total aquaculture production comes from geothermal water heated intensive systems in which the main species cultured is the North African catfish (Clarias gariepinus ).
Carp constitute 70 percent of the total fish production, and performance testing and the registration of carp varieties was begun in 1996 in order to increase the efficiency of fish production and to improve the reproductive capacity and genetic quality of carp stock. Twenty-two carp varieties were reported for registration by 15 acknowledged carp producing organisations. The Hungarian Fish Farmers' Association founded its Carp Breeding sector in 1997 and prepared a long-term production program detailing the general production goals, suggesting suitable production methods, describing the methods for performance testing and also worked out and introduced a registering and origin certification system.
Besides pond fish husbandry and natural water fish production, ‘intensive’ fish production is gaining in importance, the quantity of fish produced at these plants accounts for 6-7 percent of pond fish production.
The shares between the various species and species groups farmed in the pond and intensive systems during the last five years (1997–2002) are shown below:
Pond based fish farms are still the main production units in the Hungarian aquaculture, however, the diversification of pond fish production has been observed recently as a consequence of the socio-economic changes in Central and Eastern Europe. Besides the conventional common carp dominated polyculture systems in fertilised ponds, various other integrated technologies have been developed and practised in Hungary, including fish-duck culture and sewage-fed pond culture. While integration was based mainly on the principle of nutrient recycling in the past, integration has shown a new dimension recently which also includes various positive external influences and non-commodity outputs from multifunctional pond fish farms.
The availability of geothermal water resources also offers a good potential for intensive fish production in Hungary, thus high value fish (including tropical species) could be produced all year round. Tank systems with partial water recirculation are commonly used in the intensive production of North African catfish, sturgeons and tilapia, most of the intensive farms heated by geothermal energy are located in the Tisza Valley. As environmental regulations become more stringent, there are efforts to minimise the environmental impact of intensive fish production systems through water recirculation and effluent treatment. Biological methods for effluent treatment have been applied successfully, which includes the use of constructed wetland as part of the treatment process.
Total Hungarian aquaculture production in 2002 was 11 574 tonnes, approximately 93 percent of which came from fishponds, while another 7 percent came from intensive systems. There have been fluctuations in Hungarian aquaculture production during the past 20 years according to market conditions and socio-economic changes in the country. A peak production volume of 27 800 tonnes was reached in 1983, when considerable amounts of Chinese carps were exported to the Middle East. Between 1986 and 1996 aquaculture production dropped from about 17 000 tonnes to 8 000 tonnes during the transition from centrally planned to a market driven economy, however, aquaculture production has since shown an increase over the last five years. Total aquaculture production was 13 056 tonnes in 2001, the total value of which was approximately US$ 23 million in 2001.
In the aquaculture sector, about 75-85 percent of the total fixed assets are covered by the value of the pond and related structures, while the value of other fixed assets, such as buildings (feed storage buildings, social buildings, hatchery, etc.), machinery, vehicles, etc. is relatively low. About 18 000 ha (67 percent) of the registered 25 000–26 000 ha covered in fish ponds are currently being utilised for fish production.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Hungary according to FAO statistics:
Fish from pond aquaculture systems are traditionally marketed following the harvest of the production ponds in autumn as well as in the early months of spring when wintering ponds are harvested. As a result of 'summer harvesting', which is becoming more and more frequent, there is a favourable tendency towards marketing carp throughout the whole year. Fish produced in fishponds are marketed through wholesalers, retailers, processing plants, angling and for export.
Levels of live fish and fish product exports are overshadowed by the volume of imported fish products. Hungarian live carp export, which was aimed to 'top off' the surplus of the domestic market, has gradually declined mainly due to the European dominance of Czech carp production. In the beginning of the 1990s carp exports reached nearly 3 000 tonnes per year from Hungary, which has now dropped to 300-400 tonnes currently. The most competitive Hungarian carp product is high quality broodstock for the European carp market and silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix ) is the main commodity in the export of live fish and is marketed in Poland for processing (Orosz et al ., 2002).
Domestic production is mainly sold to the consumer in the form of live fish, while imports are mostly processed (canned fish, deep frozen ready to eat products, deep frozen fillets, marinated, smoked, etc.). According to available data and estimates, live fish account for 55-60 percent of total fish consumption, with canned fish 10-15 percent, frozen products 20-25 percent and 5 percent for other fish products. Most live fish are traded through speciality fish shops which because of their limited numbers mean that most consumers do not have access to live fish.
Per capita consumption
Current Hungarian fish consumption per capita per year is about 2.5-3.1 kg which is about 4-5 percent of the total per capita meat consumption. This amount includes both domestically produced and imported fish products, however, if the live fish equivalent is calculated for the imported processed product the consumption per capita per year rises to between 5.5-6.0 kg. In an effort to increase fish consumption the Hungarian Fish Producers Association launched a Marketing Communication Program with the assistance of the Hungarian Collective Agricultural Marketing Centre (AMC) in 1999.
The gross value of the Hungarian fisheries production sector (including both aquaculture and inland fisheries) is approximately 8 billion Hungarian Forint (HUF), or about US$ 38 million. This value is about 2.0-2.5 percent of the production value of domestic livestock production, which in turn is about 45 percent of the total value of Hungary’s agricultural production. The contribution from agriculture to the Hungarian GDP is about 5 percent, thus the fisheries sector cannot be considered a significant contributor to the national economy, at least not in financial terms. Fish consumption is also low (2.5-3.1 kg/person/year), and the number of people who are directly involved in fish farming is below 3 000. Fish culture has always played a special role in the use of aquatic resources and in the life of the people in Hungary. Fish is not an everyday food, but has a great significance during certain holiday seasons, especially at Christmas time. The most important species, the common carp is not just a popular food and game fish in Hungary, but the high value varieties and hybrids and the carp breeding and rearing technologies have gained a world-wide reputation. The application of Hungarian advances in carp culture has contributed to the improvement of food security and poverty alleviation in many developing countries.
Aquaculture has also contributed to improving rural life in Hungary although food security and poverty alleviation issues are on a different scale compared with developing countries. Although the main thrust of aquaculture is the production of food fish for income generation, the importance of the various services provided in recreation, rural tourism, nature conservation and water management will increase in future and this will provide further employment and business opportunities for rural populations.
The main government agency involved in aquaculture and fisheries is the Game and Fisheries Department within the Ministry of Agriculture and Regional Development. The main task of the department is to provide overall administrative control of aquaculture and fisheries, to ensure an adequate legislative and economic framework and to provide related legislative controls.
The department is also responsible for the maintenance of fish stocks in natural waters, the protection of their gene pools and the management of the Fisheries Fund which is financed from state revenues (fees of fishing licenses and fines). The Fisheries Fund is a competitive grant fund which can be used for the restocking of natural waters, protection of natural fish stocks and habitats as well as research and information. Applications for the use of the Fisheries Fund for particular projects are evaluated by the National Fisheries Committee which consists of experts from various fields within fisheries.
The Game and Fisheries Department is also involved in the following activities:
The Hungarian Fish Producers Association was established in 1990 as the successor to the Organisation of Fisheries Cooperatives, which was founded back in 1957. The association plays an active role in safeguarding the interests of fish producers, it has 79 members presently who operate about 13 800 ha of fish ponds (65 percent of the total fish pond area). Also affiliated to the association are the Fish Product Council and the Carp Breeding Branch. The Fish Product Council advises on price limits and coordinates marketing activities among producers, processors and traders and provides information to members. The Carp Breeding Branch, in close collaboration with the Institute for Agricultural Quality Control, the Ministry of Agriculture and Regional Development and the Research Institute for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Irrigation is an important player in the planning and implementation of carp breeding programs and the implementation of a standardised carp performance test. The association regularly organises professional fora to discuss strategies and actual problems within the sector and communicates with governmental and non-governmental organisations, the media and the public. The association also provides advisory assistance to its members in legal, environmental and marketing issues, as well as in the preparation of various applications for subsidies and funds. It has also launched a Marketing Communication Program aimed at increasing fish consumption with special regard to locally produced fish products. The association also holds responsibility for the maintenance of international contacts with relevant organisations for the benefit of its members. The Hungarian Fish Producers Association became a member of the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP) in 1999.
There have been significant changes in the regulatory framework of Hungarian aquaculture and fisheries following the social and economical changes of the early nineties when the centrally planned system was replaced by a market economy. When new laws and regulations were elaborated in Hungary conformity with relevant European Union (EU) regulations were taken into account, however, further alignment of the legislative system with the EU system became necessary when Hungary started its preparation for EU membership as one of the ten accession countries. An EU conforming legislative system is now in place with only some final corrections being required.
Various support schemes and incentives are available in Hungary to assist with the sustainable development of fish culture. Generally, the overall support system is undergoing substantial changes following Hungary becoming a member of the European Union. State aid available for producers in the fisheries and aquaculture sector in 2000 has been regulated in line with the EU Guidelines for the Examination of State Aid. All aid schemes are decided by the annual budget revisions with the exception of support for fisheries in natural waters which are financed from state revenues (fees of fishing licences and fines).
When Hungary became a member of the European Union in 2004, the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG) became available for the modernisation of the aquaculture sector. FIFG is a community measure (Council Regulation No 1263/1999) with the following objective: to set policy priorities and establish a framework for intervention by FIFG for the period 2000–2006 in order to contribute to a sustainable balance between fisheries resources and their exploitation; to increase the competitiveness of structures and the development of viable enterprises in the sector; to improve the value-added element to fisheries and aquaculture products and revitalise areas dependent on them. According to FIFG, measures for the modernisation of the Hungarian aquaculture sector have been outlined in the Hungarian Agricultural and Rural Development Operational Programme, which forms part of the National Development Plan.
Fisheries and aquaculture research has a long tradition in Hungary and has gained an international reputation, the leading institute is the Research Institute for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Irrigation (HAKI) located in Szarvas. Beside government institutions there are also NGOs conducting a certain degree of aquaculture and fisheries research.
The core research program, carried out by the lead research institute in aquaculture, HAKI, is under the supervision of the Education, Research and Development Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Regional Development. The ministry provides a core fund to the institute as a basic financial support for operations (salaries, direct operational costs, etc.) rather than for project funding. Specific projects are financed from various competitive grant funds provided mainly by the Ministry of Agriculture and Regional Development, however other ministries may also finance aquaculture related projects based on successful applications for R&D funds. A small proportion of the Fisheries Fund is also used for fisheries research, but not for aquaculture research. A general phenomenon in research financing is the limited availability of financial resources with only about 1 percent of the GDP used for R&D support in Hungary. The aquaculture industry is small and relatively weak in economic terms, thus contracting research between research institutions and aquaculture companies and farms is very rare. It is however, a recent practice to see research institutions and farms apply jointly for R&D funds. A good example of this collaboration between science and the production sector is the so called ‘Szechenyi Project: Quality development of biological and technological bases of the Hungarian fish production sector’. Research institutions are intensifying their efforts to become an integral part of the European Research Area, and access financial support from EU R&D resources.
There is systematic research planning in HAKI with the planning work and priority setting supported by a Scientific Advisory Committee. Research priorities for the whole agriculture sector are set in the Ministry of Agriculture and Regional Development, when aquaculture research priorities are set, the overall agricultural research priorities are also taken into account, there are also sector initiatives to identify issues which require further research. The Research Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture (HAKI) and the Hungarian Fish Farmers Association also organize regular Aquaculture Forums where research needs are identified.
Due to the relatively small size of the aquaculture sector there are no conventional extension service systems operating in Hungary. The research and educational institutions are carrying out extension services on their own initiative, however there are also coordinated efforts to organise training programs, professional forums and seminars and to provide information through leaflets, booklets and by electronic means.
The joint projects between scientific institutions and fish farming enterprises have proved to be the most efficient way to transfer research results into practice and verify the application and benefit of any new methods and technologies. The joint application for R&D funds by consortiums including partners from both research and fish farmers therefore get priority during the evaluation procedure of funding agencies.
Degree level training in aquaculture and fisheries is well developed in Hungary. Fish culture is one of the optional subjects at several agricultural colleges and universities during their BSc degree programs. Post graduate training to MSc and PhD level is also offered by several universities, some in the English language.
Lower-level education in fisheries and aquaculture is carried out via practical training in one Vocational Training School at Tata, where skilled workers are trained as part of a three-year program, while this school also provides various post-graduate courses in aquaculture and fisheries.
There has been a dynamic change in the fish production sector in Hungary following the social and economic changes in Eastern Europe during the early nineties when a market economy replaced the former centrally planned system. The ownership structure has also changed considerably with the introduction of privatisation. Following these dramatic changes in the economy and the subsequent difficulties, a drop in aquaculture production was experienced. Production however began to increase again when the sector became more stabilised. The ability of the sector to cope with difficulties during this transition period resulted in relatively low economic losses; however, there has been a serious deterioration in the technical level of pond fish farms with regard to related structures and farm facilities. The well organised producers association and the internationally recognised R&D institutional system has also helped the sector to overcome difficulties during the transition period. The latest challenge for the sector has been during Hungary’s accession to the European Union.
Development issues, trends and objectives in some specific areas of aquaculture development have recently been identified as a part of a medium-term development strategy for the fish production sector (DE/AVFK-HAKI-AMC-HOSZ-HTT, 2003).
The main objectives identified are summarised as follows:
Bardócz, T. , Szûcs, I. , Pintér, K. 2003 . Economic situation of the Hungarian fisheries sector. Eurofish 3: 28-33.
DE/ATC AVFK-HAKI-AMC-HOSZ-HTT.2003 . Medium-term development strategy of the fish production sector. Budapest, 76 p. (In Hungarian).
Fish Product Council. 2002 . Personal communication.
Orosz, S. , Bardócz, T. , Szûcs, I. , Grasseli, N. , Koch, K. , Békefi, E. , Péterfy, M. , Urbányi, B. 2002 . The Hungarian fisheries sector towards to accession. Budapest, 57 p. (In Hungarian).
FAO . 2005 . Aquaculture production, 2003. Yearbook of Fishery Statistics - Vol.96/2. Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.