In Serbia the culture of fish is practiced mainly in warm water on carp fish farms and in coldwater on trout farms. Fish is also cultured to a lesser extent in cages and in enclosed or partitioned natural or man-made water bodies. Total fish production in Serbia varies from 9 000 to 13 000 tonnes per year.
The total area covered by warm water fish farms is about 12 000 ha. Part of that (10 to 20 percent) is out of use. Approximately 97 percent of the fish farms are located in the Northern part of Serbia, in Vojvodina. Common carp (Cyprinus carpio) is the predominant species cultured on the warm water fish farms. Carp accounts for 85-90 percent of the total production of warm water species. In addition, silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus) and to a lesser extent, predators such as wels (Silurus glanis), pike-perch (Stizostedion lucioperca) and northern pike (Esox lucius), as well as sterlet (Acipenser ruthenus) are cultured.
The total production of warm water fish is 8 000 to 10 000 tonnes, of which 30 percent is fry and 70 percent is marketable size fish.
Trout fish farms cover 13.5 ha in Serbia. Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is produced on these farms. Total production varies from 1 600 to 2 500 tonnes, of which 25 percent is fry and 75 percent is marketable size fish.
There are also cage farming systems where rainbow trout, carp and catfish are cultured. The total number of cage farms is about 20, of which 50 percent are of a small capacity (below 10 tonnes). Production in cages is approximately 400 tonnes, of which 84 percent is carp, 15 percent rainbow trout and 1 percent catfish.
The potential for aquaculture development in Serbia lies in increasing: i) the surface occupied by fish farms, ii) production per unit area i.e. water volume and iii) the number of species cultured.
The idea of carp culture was brought from Hungary. In 1860 an area named “fish farm” was drawn in for the first time in the land maps of Irig at Fruška Gora in Vojvodina (the northern province of Serbia). These are the first records of aquaculture in Serbia. The start of contemporary aquaculture in Vojvodina is linked to the establishment in 1894 of the oldest and biggest fish farm in Serbia, the fish farm Ečka, when a regulation on White Lake (Belo Jezero) was completed.
Over the past 10 years total annual fish production in Serbia has ranged from 9 000 to 13 000 tonnes (personal estimation of the authors of this report). According to official statistical data from the Federal Statistical Office, annual production varies from 3 170 to 7 404 tonnes. This discrepancy is due to the fact that a number of fish farms do not report their production to authorized institutions, and that part of the market is not legally controlled.
The privatisation of fish farms began in 2003. Before that, the state companies owned 95 percent of the farms registered for this type of agricultural production, while only about 5 percent of the small fish farms were private. In the last 2 years the majority of fish farms (over 80 percent) have been privatised.
The number of people involved full-time in aquaculture in Serbia is about 1 100. Only about 50 people (4 percent of the total) have completed higher education. People working directly in aquaculture production come from the faculties of agriculture, biology and veterinary medicine. Managers of fish farms are economics graduates.
Approximately 120 persons (10 percent) have completed secondary education (mainly agriculture, economics and machinery) and this enables them to work in fish production, farm administration and machine maintenance on the fish farms.
Other employees have only primary education or only a few years of primary education.
Ninety percent of the employees are male. Females are rarely employed directly in fish production, but work mainly in administration as cooks or cleaners. Those women who do work in production are university graduates.
In addition to the full-time employees, seasonal workers are hired on the carp farms in the autumn period for harvest. Their number varies from 200 to 300 and they are employed for approximately 60 days per year.
Owners of large fish farms with production of over 100 tonnes per year are often not directly involved in production but are mainly managers. Owners of small farms with production of under 100 tonnes are engaged in both production and management.
There is no precise data on the areas used for aquaculture. Over the last 15 years a number of small fish farms has been established without corresponding documentation.
The biggest number of fish farms is in the northern Province of Vojvodina. Of the total area of 12 000 hectares, only 350 ha are outside Vojvodina, south of the Danube and the Sava river.
In Vojvodina the carp fish farms are built on barren land (of high salinity or grassland). The water supply comes from the rivers Danube, Tisza, Begej and Tamis, from the canal network Danube – Tisza – Danube, as well as from groundwater. In addition to natural food for the fish, cereals such as wheat, corn and barley are used (over 80 percent), or extruded feed of local origin.
Trout fish farms are located south of the Sava and Danube rivers in the hilly mountainous part of Serbia. Approximately 13 ha are in the western, eastern and southern parts of Serbia. Fish farms are built on barren soil and the water supply comes from larger sized springs or mountain streams and rivers of first class water quality. Eighty percent of the fish feed used is of foreign origin, and only 20 percent is supplied locally.
There is only one cage system for trout production. This is located in western Serbia on the Tara mountain in Zaovine. The lake water in which the cages are located is of prime quality. The feed used is from both national and international suppliers, depending on price and management decisions.
Cage systems for carp production are placed in man-made lakes and canals in Serbia. There are 10 systems. Extruded feed of local origin is mainly used.
In Serbia the freshwater fish species cultured are: common carp (Cyprinus carpio), silver (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), bighead (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus), wels (Silurus glanis), pike-perch (Stizostedion lucioperca), northern pike (Esox lucius),sterlet (Acipenser ruthenus) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss).
On warm water carp fish farms common carp is the predominant species cultured and accounts for 85–90 percent of the total production of warm water species. In addition, big head and silver carp, grass carp, and to a lesser extent predators wels, pike-perch, and northern pike (Esox lucius) are cultured.
Carp culture in Serbia began over a hundred years ago and the fry for culture was obtained from Hungary. The culture of other species (big head, silver carp and grass carp) began in the 1960s. There is no precise data on the start or origins of rainbow trout culture.
The selection of cultured fish in Serbia is made mainly according to the external characteristics of fish. Preliminary activities in a Selection Programme have been underway since the beginning of 2005. The selective breeding of carp has been carried out through the bilateral project “Scientific cooperation between Serbia and Norway concerning planning and establishing a genetic improvement programme for carp in Serbia, and to knowledge transfer within genetics and selective breeding“ which is a project between the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Belgrade and Akvaforsk, Institute for Aquaculture Research, As, Norway (2005–2007), and through a project accepted under the 7th Framework Programme (REGPOT–2007–3), Reinforcement of Sustainable Aquaculture – ROSA, 2008-2011, (No. 205135).
Extensive production is limited to warm water. On those carp farms that do not have working capital, the fish is not given additional feed during the production cycle. Yields in this type of production are dependent on pond fertility and vary from 300 to 600 kg/ha. Only 1 to 2 percent of total fish production originates from this farming system.
The principal type of production in Serbia (90-95 percent) is the semi-intensive system for cyprinid production, with carp the major species (about 85 percent of total fish production on carp fish farms). The essential element of this system is to satisfy protein requirements for the fish through natural food developed in the pond. Increasing natural food growth is achieved by the use of different measures such as: drainage of pond bottom during winter, treatment of pond bottom, fertilization etc. The carbohydrate part of the diet is ensured through additional feed which consists mainly of cereals corn, wheat and barley. Yield per hectare in the semi-intensive system varies from 700 to over 1 500 kg/ha, the average being about 1 000 kg/ha. From 2004 some of the fish farms (about 20 percent) decided to intensify the semi-intensive production by introducing extruded complete feed for carp, thus increasing production from 1 500 to over 3 000 kg/ha.
The intensive production system is rarely used in warm water fish culture. It is used in earthen ponds for fingerling culture. Intensive production is used exclusively for rainbow trout in trout fish farms and in cages. Only complete feed from different European producers is used.
Production on trout farms with concrete raceways is carried out on some farms of over 50 kg/m3. Due to a water shortage in the summer period, as well as lack of aeration and oxygenation systems, production on a number of farms is 10 to 20 kg/m3, which means that farms only operate at partial capacity. Trout production in cages is in approximately 12-15 kg/m3 of water. Intensive carp production in cages varies from 20 to over 60 kg/m3 of water.
As indicated by FAO official fishery statistics, total aquaculture production of fish in Serbia in 2006 was 4 835 tonnes, at a value of 16 035 100 US$ (Table1).
According to the data from the Serbian Republican Statistical Office and the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, fish production in the period 2003–2005 was between 7 571 and 9 026 tonnes.
The authors of this report estimate that official figures on fish production are approximately 20 percent lower than actual ones, since part of the trade is outside legal control.
Table 1. Aquaculture production in Serbia in 2006.
The quantity of fish consumed has been increasing over the past 10 years. According to official data from the Federal Statistical Office, fish consumption in the period from 1996 to 2003 varied between 1.83 to 3.67 kg per capita.
The authors of this report estimate quantities to be greater. The difference between official data and the authors’ estimate is due to the fact that part of the fish is placed on the market by illegal channels.
Official figures for fish consumption in Serbia in the period 2003–2006 are missing. Taking into account the quantity of fish imported, exported, produced and caught in the period 2004–2006, the authors of this report estimate consumption per capita to have been 5.4 kilos in 2004, 5.1 kilos in 2005 and 5.2 kilos in 2006.
Fish consumption is not continuous over the year. It has its peaks related to religious traditions. The largest quantity is consumed in October until December during the fasting period. In 2004 the value of fish trade in the period October – December was 61.7 percent of the total annual trade. In 2005 it was 59.1 percent and in 2006 50.5 percent according to the Yugoslav Federal Statistical Office. During 2004-2006 the decreasing trend in fish consumption in the period October – December compared to the rest of the year could be attributed to increased consumption of fish at other times of the year than fasting periods.
Fish trade on the market of Serbia is carried out through specialized shops or supermarkets equipped for fresh and frozen fish trade. Most of the shops selling fish are located on market places where the population buys primary products (e.g. fruits, vegetables, meat etc.). The shops are supplied wholesale or directly from fish farms. The price of fish varies by about 10 percent among shops depending on the location, distance from the farm or distribution centre. The main distribution centre is Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, which has the biggest population. Apart from Belgrade, important distributive centres are in big cities. Wholesale prices of aquaculture products compared to on farm prices are approx. 5 percent higher; whereas in the shops they are 25 percent higher.
Given the increase in fish consumption over the last ten years, the importance of aquaculture is increasing in Serbia. During the same period the areas dedicated to fish farming have increased by 10 to 15 percent, but the number of newly established farms has increased by 100 percent, mainly small-scale family run farms. Given a lack of tradition in aquaculture, the increase in the number of farms represents progress for Serbia. For a number of families, fish farming is the main income activity, whilst for others it is an additional occupation.
However, the large fish farms which have been privatised over the last three years account for the main aquaculture production, the most important facilities as well as the largest number of employees. New farm owners come from different businesses (fish trade, production of other food or non-food products, banking etc.). Those employed on fish farms for simple unqualified jobs are from neighbouring villages. In addition to working on the farm, the employees often sell crops (wheat, corn, barley) grown on their own land to the farm.
The impact of aquaculture on the livelihood of poor rural households is not important. The reason for this is that the market price of fish is similar to that of meat. The poor population consumes warm blooded animal meat. More important for the poor households is the fish caught from natural waters, especially cheap fish.
According to the Serbian Republican Statistical Office Serbia imported 20 229 tonnes of fish and fishery products in 2003. In 2004 imports were 29 536 tonnes, in 2005 imports were 27 928 tonnes and in 2006 imports were 28 738 tonnes. In the same period the value of imports increased from US $ 26 million in 2003 to US $ 61.4 million in 2006.
The quantity of fish and seafood imported in the past three years is more or less constant, although the amount of money spent on imports is increasing. Such a trend is a consequence of imports of better quality products. The average price per kg of fish and seafood imported in 2004 was US$ 1.67. In 2005 it was US$ 1.91, and in 2006 it was US$ 2.14.
Fish exports are small and much smaller than imports. Exports have increased from 88 tonnes in 2003 to 713 tonnes in 2006. The average price per kg of fish and seafood exported in 2004 was 3.22 US$. In 2005 it was US$ 4.4, and in 2006 it was US$ 4.1. The average price of exported fish per Kg is twice as high as the price of imported fish.
In the Republic of Serbia the Ministry of Environmental Protection is in charge of aquaculture. There is no agency with specific responsibility for aquaculture and there are no measures to encourage sustainable aquaculture.
Management of the sector is delegated to the fish farm managers. They work together and try to influence how the sector is managed. In May 2005 in the Chamber of Commerce of the Republic of Serbia, a Fishery Association was established, bringing together 64 private fish farms, 5 farms in the process of privatisation and 19 companies registered for commercial fishing.
Fisheries in Serbia (and aquaculture as a whole) is regulated by particular laws. The Fishery Law from 1994 pays much more attention to fish caught in natural waters than to aquaculture. In Serbia aquaculture is regulated by the Law on Fishery (Official Record of the Republic of Serbia, No 35/94 and 38/94). The aim in the near future is to prepare a new law with increased focus on aquaculture.
The other main regulations related to aquaculture are as follows:
Aquaculture research is carried out by experts and scientists at the universities, faculties, high schools and institutes. The Ministry of Science of Serbia sets research priorities according to suggestions from scientists working in these institutions and from ministry's experts. Research is carried out through research projects financed by: i) the Ministry of Science (for basic research projects and national research projects), or ii) the Ministry of Science, together with producers/industry/business as partners (biotechnological projects). When a fish farm is interested and included as a partner in a research project, research is carried out partly on the fish farm, and partly in the scientific institutions. The state transfers results to all stakeholders in the aquaculture sector.
Research is also carried out when a fish farm is interested and puts forward a request. The research is done by experts and researchers from faculties and institutes in collaboration with professionals from the farm. Such projects are financially supported by the fish farms. In June 2007 Serbia joined the EU Seventh Framework Program (FP7) for research and technological development. It enabled Serbian researchers to participate and coordinate these projects fully. In the aquaculture sector a REGPOT-3 project “Reinforcement of Sustainable Aquaculture“ – ROSA, No. 205135, is coordinated by the Faculty of Agriculture University of Belgrade. The project started in February 2008.
During the past ten years interest in aquaculture has increased in Serbia due to an increase in fish consumption. This has been influenced by a return to traditions (fasting periods during religious holidays) and the increased interest in healthy eating.
Aquaculture in Serbia is a profitable way of producing animal proteins. This has led to increased interest by investors in this sector. During the last three years the privatisation of most of the fish farms has been completed. New owners are confronted with problems such as: neglected fish farms, low productivity, too many employees, old working habits, disused or obsolete equipment and lack of equipment. New owners are trying to provide better conditions on the farms and to gradually increase production.
On fish farms which have already been privatised production is increasing slightly due to the introduction of better quality feed, better equipment for aeration and oxygenation, better regulation of the farm, as well as better management.
However, despite a slight increase, production in Serbia is still small, and since consumption is rising, imports are increasing.
Aquaculture has a fairly negative effect on the environment. After use the spring water or water from streams and rivers which supplies trout farms is often drained into the environment without being treated (sedimentation or purification). Since average trout production is 10 to 15 kg per m3, the negative impact is small. The aim in the future is to require that the water used for farming is treated (by construction of a waste water pond and use of filters) in order to give maximum protection to the environment.
Contrary to trout, carp farms use water of second-class quality, often with suspended matter. A farm with semi-intensive production (about 1 000 kg/ha) has a waste-water sedimentation pond. As a result, water used for warm water fish production is of better quality when it leaves the pond (particularly with regard to suspended matter and a smaller amount of nutrients). The negative impact on the environment happens at the end of the production cycle when the farm is prepared for harvest and the water is drained into the environment.
During the last ten years the area of fish farms has increased by 10 to 15 percent, but the number of newly established farms has increased by 100 percent. A number of small-scale family owned farms has been established, and this represents a development for Serbia, since there is no tradition in aquaculture.
Despite the fact that there is increased interest by investors in fisheries, an increase in fish farm areas, as well as a deficit of fish on the local market which in turn leads to an increase in imports, measures to stimulate the development of aquaculture are still lacking.
Areas for potential aquaculture development in Serbia are related to increase i) the surface area of fish farms, ii) production per unit area i.e. water volume and iii) the number of species cultured.
The current surface area of the fish farms could be increased as follows: carp fish farms by 10 to 20 times (especially surfaces of low fertility, near river currents or canal network), trout fish farms by 3 to 4 times, and cage volumes by 3 to 4 times. Thermal groundwater, thermal wells, as well as heated water from thermal power stations are important resources which could be used for warm water fish production.
An increase in production per unit area on carp systems farms could be achieved by intensifying the currently semi-intensive production through the use of better quality fish feed (extruded for instance), reconstruction of existing farms (by reducing fish pond surface area from several hundred to 20 to 50 hectares), introducing new equipment such as aerators, feeders etc., and better disease prevention and health protection of the cultured species.
Increased production per unit area on trout fish farms could be achieved by intensifying existing production through the introduction of oxygenation in order to overcome water deficiency in the summer period.
It would be possible to increase the number of cultured species in Serbia by introducing the following species: European eel (Anguilla anguilla), tilapia (Tilapia sp.), North African catfish (Clarias gariepinus), trout (Salmo trutta m. fario) and huchen (Hucho hucho).
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