In Uruguay, policies related to the fisheries sector are a competence and responsibility of the National Directorate for Aquatic Resources (DINARA) which falls under the Ministry of Animal Husbandry, Agriculture and Fisheries (MGAP).
Since 1975, according to the Law for the creation of the National Fisheries Institute (INAPE), currently the DINARA, attempts for promotion and development of aquaculture in Uruguay have been made. The first action taken in this direction was the definition of policies that would encourage development through research. This allowed the development of appropriate technologies for the cultivation of local species, dark catfish (Rhamdia quelen) and the silverside (Odontesthes bonariensis), yet not neglecting private initiatives which could also be of national interest. Since 1995, DINARA started to respond to a growing number of applications to stock species in privately owned water bodies, and thus extending its services to the Department Municipal Governments of the country’s Departments, with the aim to restocking natural water courses to increase the prevailing populations. On the other hand, within the private sector, the state has started to participate in the promotion and extension to develop rural aquaculture oriented to self consumption and/or local marketing at a small scale. In this respect, extension has included the transference of technologies for reproduction and breeding of native species from the region, which resulted in the establishment of production units for the sale of fingerlings.
The major private enterprises are working successfully with exotic species of high commercial value, such as Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser baerii), the Australian lobster or red claw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus), and the American bull frog (Rana catesbeiana).
The scarce development reached by aquaculture in the country is a result of unstable research and development policies, insufficient qualification of human resources, limited infrastructure provided by official agencies and the virtual lack of cost-benefit surveys on intensive scale production of autochthonous species. From the assessment of results obtained over the last 20 years, it may be concluded that the attainment of achievements has been very limited and that the efforts made were not structured within a national plan for the development of aquaculture, but rather responded to specific demands.
In 1957 the first Fish Culture Station was created at Laguna del Sauce for the production of silverside fingerlings to restock inland water basins. During the same decade, similar experiences were carried out with rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) proceeding from Argentina. In the same year, the first attempts to culture an autochthonous marine mollusc (Mytilus edulis platensis) were initiated.
In 1975 the National Fisheries Institute (INAPE) was created and within it, the Department of Aquaculture and Inland Waters, which furthered the works on silverside and carried out the first studies on the dark catfish (Rhamdia quelen). Between 1974 and 1983, the Fisheries Research Institute (IIP) of the Faculty of Veterinary undertakes research on the marine shrimp (Penaeus paulensis) implementing field experiments in Barra del Arroyo Valizas (Department of Rocha).
During 1980, the Faculty of Humanities and Sciences created the Department of Aquaculture (which only lasted until the end of the same decade) which provided courses on the subject matter and undertook research on the cultivation of freshwater crustacea (Prastacus spp). In 1981 the IIP conducted experimental work on the cultivation of the mullet (Mugil platanus). As of 1984, through a Technical Cooperation Agreement among the INAPE and the Government of the Republic of China, studies were made on marine aquaculture at La Paloma (Department of Rocha) with the aim to develop the technology for the cultivation of Penaeus paulensis as well as of the Malaysian prawn Macrobrachium rosenbergii and the “siri” blue crab Callinectes sapidus. Since 1986 the INAPE and the IIP work jointly on the technical and economical feasibility for the cultivation of the bull frog (Rana catesbeiana).
During 1991 the Technological Laboratory of Uruguay (LATU) installed a small marine laboratory in La Paloma, and with the technical support of INAPE started experiments on the polyculture of Gracilaria verrucosa and red abalone (Haliotis rufescens). During 1995 the private sector introduced the Siberian sturgeon into the Department of Durazno for the production of fish meat as well as caviar. In 1998, INAPE introduced the red claw crayfish or Australian freshwater lobster Cherax quadricarinatus to determine the viability of its cultivation within the country. In 2002, in the oceanic zone of Punta del Este – Maldonado, a private enterprise launched a project to determine the technical and economic feasibility of the cultivation of the native blue mussel which traditionally has been exploited by artisanal fishermen.
At the state level in general, production systems transferred for the cultivation of the dark catfish, the silverside, the common carp and the grass carp are either extensive or semi-intensive. Within the private sector, the sturgeon and the bullfrog are being cultivated under intensive systems, while the red claw crayfish under semi-intensive conditions.
Formal education offers Bachelors Degrees in Biological Oceanography, Biological Sciences, as well as in Veterinary. Professionals and technicians have not had yet the opportunity to experience relevant professional achievements beyond specialization courses both at national and international levels.
The main cornerstones in the development of this sector are the following:
In the private sector: 19 people, 15 male and 4 female are owners of farms. A total of 100 people are involved in the activity, of which 33 are female and 67 male. Of the latter, 10 have only elementary studies, 41 high school, and 16 concluded higher education; among female 17 reached high school and 16 higher education. Of all employees, only 5 percent are part time workers. Work tasks may be divided into managerial, administrative, and operative or production activities; the latter include food preparation, animal management, processing and marketing of products and by-products, both for internal and external markets.
It should be pointed out that the former figures do not take into consideration subsistence or small-scale fish farmers whose quantification is nearly impossible due to their rural distribution and small scale. Presently, a survey is being undertaken in order to determine the number of fish farm units in operation as well as their status and achievements.
Although other introduced species, such as bull frog (Rana catesbeiana), giant river prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii), common (Cyprinus carpio) and grass carps (Ctenopharyngodon idellus), have been tested for aquaculture, the desired levels of production have not yet been achieved due to different reasons, particularly due to economic matters such as lack of investment, lack of financial assistance and loans as well as market studies which could enlighten knowledge about demand and setting of production. Specifically in the case of bull frog, it is important to mention the lack of facilities for its processing according to the required standards of the strictest markets.
With regards to endemic species, and particularly those for which studies have been made such as the dark catfish and the silverside, the cost of manufactured feeds becomes a major obstacle to up-scale production to commercial levels. These species are important at the rural level, and when cultivated under specific conditions become socially beneficial considering the creation of employment, the supply of animal protein, as well as a complementary or alternative use of irrigation facilities.
Industrial/commercial aquaculture. This category utilises semi intensive and intensive cultivation systems. It is practiced in floating cages, tanks and raceways. Under these systems high valued species are produced, and thus creating employment and making use of otherwise under utilised processing facilities. Obtaining by-products, creates the possibility of access to alternative markets.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Uruguay according to FAO statistics:
Sturgeon: meat exports. It is sold either eviscerated, HGT, or filleted (fresh or frozen). Meat is immediately sold fresh or is frozen and stored at –18°C, with a shelf life of 18 months. The sale price is US$ 8/kg (eviscerated) and US$25/kg (filet). 85 percent of meat production is exported whilst 15 percent in commercialized in local markets.
Caviar exports: the type of caviar obtained from this sturgeon is the “oscetra”. It is exported fresh as well as pasteurized. Fresh caviar is preserved at temperatures varying from
–3°C to +3°C with a useful life up to 6 months; the pasteurized caviar is stocked at the same temperatures with a useful life up to one year. Exports amount to 97 percent of total production, while 3 percent is marketed locally. The final price at international markets varies depending on the purchaser: if sold to an intermediary or the final customer, ranging from US$ 500 to US$750/kg (C&F). In the domestic market, prices vary from US$950 to US$1 200/kg. Caviar is sold to upper class (5 star) restaurants and hotels. In terms of total value, caviar represents 91 percent while meat only 9 percent of the combined production.
Caviar and meat processing is carried out according to HACCP standards. The processing plant is certified by the Food and Drug Administration of the USA. It has also been certified for export to the European Union.
Both products are exported to the United States, while caviar is also exported to the European Union, through Belgium as the distribution centre. Prices may increase three-fold for caviar, and two-fold for meat.
Bull frog: the bull frog is commercialized mainly within the internal market, indeed only in restaurants. Montevideo and Punta del Este (Maldonado) are the main marketing places, but the littoral Departments of Colonia and Salto are also becoming destination markets. Legs are sold frozen at a prize of US$15/kg plus taxes (23 percent). During 2004, 400 kg were sold within the internal market. In turn, the skin, as a by-product, is processed and utilised for shoe and boot manufacture at a prize of US$54 and US$125 a pair respectively.
Current production levels are so low that it is not possible to enter international markets either for meat (frog legs) or skin.
According to Decree 213/997 and its corresponding laws and regulations, INAPE –the actual DINARA- is the official authority responsible for controlling hygiene and sanity aspects for fisheries and aquatic hunting.
Commercial aquaculture has developed almost exclusively based on exotic species, and is limited to the already described enterprises; however, it does show potential in the short and medium terms. Private projects, presented for approval to DINARA, reflect a consolidation trend on production and export volumes aiming to reach international markets. These enterprises are equally based on the cultivation of exotic species.
The Law Decree 14.416 of 28 August 1975 created the National Fisheries Institute (nowadays DINARA), as an executive unit of the Ministry of Husbandry, Agriculture and Fisheries (MGAP); in December of that same year, Law 14.484 established its competencies. Among these, outstand the provision of advise, support, promotion, development and regulation of all activities related to fisheries activities and related industries pertaining to both the public and private sectors. The National Fisheries Institute was also empowered with the responsibility to review and conduct research and development of aquaculture in every possible form; previous consent by the Executive will be necessary for the establishment and administration of hatcheries, fish culture and re-stocking stations, and research centres,.
The Decree 259/996 of 26 June 1996, Art. 1 states that “Aquaculture in all its modalities, stages and species is of national interest”. Article 4 establishes that all interested enterprises in undertaking aquaculture must present their corresponding investment project.
Article. N° 3 of Decree 149/997, establishes that entrepreneurs interested in undertaking aquaculture commercial activities must submit to DINARA a complete project document containing all technical specifications as required.
Decree Nº 213/997 of 18 June,1997 updates and modifies Decree N° 663/987 of 4 November, 1987 (Rules of Inspection of Fishery Products), establishing INAPE’s competencies on control and standards regarding hygiene and sanity procedures of fishery products.
The Ministry of Husbandry, Agriculture and Fisheries, through the National Directorate for Aquatic Resources, has the following substantive responsibilities for the sector:
As of 2000, the Technical Group for Aquaculture Development is created, and whose operation depends directly from the Technical Direction of DINARA.
Individuals or enterprises interested in the activity must prepare and submit for approval, a Project properly acknowledged and undersigned by a professional responsible. Once the project has been approved and following its implementation, it will be inspected by DINARA and then submitted to the Aquaculture Registry, where all data must be presented including legal status, facilities, administration, species, etc. In the case of the introduction of exotic species, an authorization by the Executive is required for entry into the country. Sanitary certificates must also be presented, including that for cholera-free organisms. In the case of bivalve molluscs, a red-tide free certificate must also be presented. In all cases DIANRA supervises all incoming species and thereafter monitors and follows-up the cultivation process. In every case entrepreneurs must present the official authorization issued by the corresponding state administration related to the process (National Environmental Directorate, Ministry of Transport and Public Works, National Hydrographical Directorate, National Naval Authority, etc.).
In the case of rural aquaculture, it is not a requirement to submit a project. Generally, local Department Governments assemble the small farmers desiring to diversify their sources of income or interested in improving their diet. Technicians from DINARA visit each land plot; give an introductory course on fish farming and advise peasants on adequate use of water bodies as well as on the adequate handling of the species to be stocked. DINARA supplies the fingerlings at 50 percent of their cost; and will follow-up their development upon request.
A major visible problem is the insufficient qualification of human resources involved in research on this topic (the specialised course on aquaculture offered at the Science Faculty was cancelled back in 1985-1986). Although Uruguay possesses a certain number of technicians and specialised researchers in diverse fields of aquaculture, actively working in DINARA as well as in the University of the Republic (Science Faculty and Veterinary Faculty), their number becomes insufficient should the activity be furthered to a superior level.
The lack of a National Plan, dictating the guidelines and strategies for the development of the sector, has prevented the achievement of clear objectives in research as well as in the scope of scientific results. Nevertheless, since its creation, the INAPE has oriented its research and development policies towards local species, having mainly centred on the dark catfish, due to its ease of adaptation and resistance to captivity conditions, easy handling, and the fine quality of its meat. Another subject of research supported by DINARA at present is related to the large migratory species with the purpose to mitigate the negative impacts generated by the construction of hydroelectric dams situated along the main water courses of the country.
In Uruguay there is neither a professional nor a technical curricular degree in this field. Public institutions that carry out research on this subject are the DINARA and the Faculty of Veterinary. The latter offers the only existing course on aquaculture and which is taught to students of the career of veterinary medicine. It is a compulsory course taught during one semester in addition to two optional courses on aquaculture and aquatic patho-biology
Amongst the various species that have been cultivated in Uruguay, the most outstanding is the production of sturgeon whose commercial viability has been proven. Since 2001 caviar and sturgeon meat are being produced for export. The plant where these products are processed is certified by FDA (Food & Drugs Administration) for export to the US. Both items are produced under HACCP regulations; caviar is equally certified by the European Union. With the success in inducing its reproduction, the biological cycle of the sturgeon under captivity has been completed. This ensures the supply of seed and thus the enterprise is up-scaling its full fledged production capacity.
The cultivation of the bull-frog has thrived though at a lower scale than that of sturgeon, also carried out by the private sector. The proliferation of certain pathologies makes it clear that Uruguay is in need of technological support for the culture of this species if success of this activity is not to be hindered. Nevertheless, it is important to mention that the frog has become established as a product for the internal market readily available in supermarkets and restaurants, arising the interest of potential buyers at a regional level. It is to be emphasized that in addition to the production and marketing of frog legs, the tanned leather has also become a major by-product in great demand both regionally and internationally.
Although the cultivation of the Australian lobster or red claw crayfish was initiated as a small scale enterprise, with the main objective of determining its economic and technical viability, in a brief period of time this activity has achieved its technical consolidation. Currently it is possible to make plans for its expansion upon identification of domestic and international markets, either alive or as a processed product.
In rural areas a growing number of farmers have started to become interested in aquaculture as an alternative source of income. In response to this socially important claim by peasants and artisanal fishermen, since 1995 DINARA started to undertake a larval and fingerling stocking scheme, mainly with the dark catfish. Currently DIANRA is proceeding to identify those Departments with greater socio-economical difficulties in order to establish adequate productive strategies (i.e. definition of species, systems of cultivation, nutrition and market) to meet such demands. By giving the required technical follow-up and monitoring, it is expected that rural aquaculture will contribute to achieve the goals for local development.
Fluent and coordinated interaction among governmental Institutions has not yet been fully achieved nor have effective coordination mechanisms with all the stake holders responsible for research and development been established. Nevertheless, inter-institutional communication, particularly with the National Directorate of the Environment (DINAMO), has begun with the aim of establishing an operative framework of technical consultation, prior to the approval of aquaculture projects put forward by potential producers or investors.
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