Aquaculture Development Trends
in the Countries of the
Former USSR Area

Laszlo Varadi1, Sergey Blokhin2, Ferenc Pekar3,
Istvan Szucs4 and Imre Csavas5

Fish Culture Research Institute, P.O. Box 47
H-5541 Szarvas, Hungary

Varadi, L., Blokhin, S., Pekar, F., Szucs, I. & Csavas, I. 2001. Aquaculture development trends in the countries of the former USSR area. In R.P. Subasinghe, P. Bueno, M.J. Phillips, C. Hough, S.E. McGladdery & J.R. Arthur, eds. Aquaculture in the Third Millennium. Technical Proceedings of the Conference on Aquaculture in the Third Millennium, Bangkok, Thailand, 20-25 February 2000. pp.417-429. NACA, Bangkok and FAO, Rome.

ABSTRACT: There has been a dramatic decline in the aquaculture production of the former USSR countries, from a peak of about 420 000 mt in 1990 to 109 000 mt (-26 percent) in 1997. The share of aquaculture to total fisheries production has been decreasing, in contrast to the general global trend. However, some recovery in aquaculture production was observed in 1996 in Russia and Uzbekistan. This resulted in a 5 percent increase for the entire region. This is an indication that the sector is over the shock caused by the break-up of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and could gradually increase, depending on the changes in the economic environment. Nonetheless, recovery is seen to take a long time. Research and development has suffered from substantial cutback in funds and the deterioration of research infrastructure. The rather lengthy economic recession and instability in the region have significantly affected aquaculture development, particularly as access to credit is hampered by unsettled property rights and lack of experience with the aquaculture sector among financial institutions.

The two main directions of aquaculture development in the region would be the revitalization of the existing, formerly prosperous inland aquaculture sector, consisting mainly of pond fishfarm complexes, and the further development of culture-based fisheries. The share of coastal and marine culture may also increase from the present 8 percent of volume, but freshwater aquaculture will remain dominant with the region’s tremendous freshwater resources. Integration with other sectors should be considered as much as possible in developing the region’s aquaculture.

One bright spot is that the professional and personal linkages that survived between the Russian Federation and the new independent states after the disintegration of the USSR provide a good basis for future regional collaboration. The establishment of producers’ associations is a recent positive development towards improving the exchange of information among enterprises within the region. The establishment of databases, including directories of institutions and enterprises, is of great importance in view of the new and complex situation in the region. Twinning of institutions would provide an excellent basis for longterm collaboration. Although the Russian Federation and most countries in the region have joined major international treaties and participate in various international organizations, many countries are not adequately represented in international organizations. This situation could be improved to benefit individual countries and the region, as well as the organizations.

KEY WORDS: Former USSR, Aquaculture, Fish Farming, Development, Aquatic Production.





The countries of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) area, which cover parts of the European and Asian continents, comprises of 15 countries6. The area extends from the Baltic Sea, in the west, to the Pacific Ocean, in the east, and from the Arctic Ocean, in the north, to the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, in the south. The total population of the countries of the former USSR area was about 293 million in 1996, which represents 5 percent of the world population. About 32 percent of the total population of this region is rural, compared with the global figure of 54 percent, varying from 24 percent in the Russian Federation to 54 percent in Central Asia. About 17 percent of the active population is engaged in agriculture, compared to 47 percent globally, varying from 12 percent in the Russian Federation to 30 percent in Central Asia. This reflects the importance of agriculture in Central Asia, while industry is largely predominant in the northern areas of the region. The average population density is 13 inhabitants/km2, compared with 43 inhabitants/km2 globally, varying from 9 inhabitants/km2 in the Russian Federation to 90 inhabitants/km2 in the Caucasus. The population growth between 1995 and 1996 was less than 0.06 percent, compared to the world average of 1.4 percent. While in the 1980s the annual demographic growth rate was still positive, many countries of this region have shown a negative rate since independence in 1991. The main reason attributed to this has been the difficult economic situation that has prevailed since independence, leading to lower birth rates and population migration.

It is within this context of dramatic social and economic change within a large region, that the development and contribution of aquaculture in the countries of the former USSR area is made.

Analysis of production, demand and consumption trends

Statistical data indicate a significant and unfortunate decrease in fish consumption in the countries of the former USSR area during recent years. Annual fish consumption was at its highest level, 30 kg/caput, in the mid-1980s, but has shown a gradual decrease since that time. Average fish consumption was 33 percent lower during the period 1991-1995 than for 1986-1990, compared to a reduction of 8 percent for meat.


Recent information indicates that the negative trend has halted and even been reversed, resulting in an increase (FAO, 2000a).

According to Laureti (1999), the average annual fish consumption (including both freshwater and marine species and products) in the countries of the former USSR area was 13.25 kg/caput7 in 1997. While there is very wide variation in the different countries of the region, ranging from 0.1 kg/caput in Tajikistan to 18.8 kg/caput in Estonia, the mean figure is still below the world average (16.1 kg/caput). The main countries for fish consumption are Estonia, Lithuania, Russia and Latvia, which together show an average of about 23.2 kg/caput, while the average fish consumption in the other 11 countries of the former USSR area is only 3.1 kg/caput. The consumption of freshwater species is particularly low, with 2.0 kg/caput as the annual average consumption for the countries of the former USSR area. The main freshwater fish-consuming countries are Russia (3.1 kg/caput), Estonia (2.7 kg/caput), and Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan each with (2.1 kg/caput). The average freshwater fish consumption in the other countries is only 0.65 kg/caput.

The slight increase in fish consumption appears likely to continue in the short term, and it is assumed that current fish consumption is actually higher than the figures available in statistics. This is because a certain amount of fish is consumed directly by small-scale producers or sold locally and does not necessarily appear in the statistics.

It is considered that, given the availability of aquatic resources in many countries of the former USSR area and the traditional levels of fish production and consumption, both fish production and consumption will increase. This would be achieved in parallel with the consolidation of the economic situation in the region. It is expected that low- and medium-value species and products would be the initial targets, but there is scope for increasing consumption of quality or premium fish products in the longer term.

Aquaculture as a source of food and contribution of aquaculture for human nutrition

Fish has always been a major source of animal protein in the countries of the former USSR area, and the majority of the supply originates in marine capture fisheries, an activity that has also decreased dramatically in recent years.




Seven countries of the former USSR area (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) have been classified as low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) (FAO, 2000b).

There has been a dramatic decrease in fish production in these countries, especially in Georgia, where production dropped from
2 600 mt in 1991 to practically zero by 1997. It is not only a coincidence that the fish production per caput in five of these countries (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) is the lowest in the region, the average being less than 40 gm/caput. Although the ratio of the rural population is the highest in the LIFDCs (around 50 percent as an average), large rural areas also exist in other countries (Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia).

  Significant freshwater and marine aquatic resources that are available for fish production have not been exploited or have remained greatly underused. The development of aquaculture could play an important role in the improvement of nutrition and rural life in the countries of the former USSR area.

Analysis of regional production statistics

Aquaculture provided 108 743 mt in 1997, worth US$274 million, which represents a regional contribution of 0.3 percent (volume) and 0.6 percent (value) to global aquaculture. This level is well below the peak production of 420 000 mt seen in 1990, at a time when the region’s contribution was 2.6 percent (total quantity) and 3.2 percent (value). There was a dramatic decrease in aquaculture production in this region after the collapse of the former USSR and the consequent break-up of the state structure (Table 1). This led to a crash in aquaculture where harvests dropped by 74 percent in seven years. The regional APRs [Annual Percent Rate of Growth], since 1990, are -18 percent (volume) and -15 percent (value) (FAO, 2000a).

About 92 percent of the production in 1997 originated from freshwater activities, where cyprinids are the major species group (84 percent of quantity) (Fig. 1). The two dominant countries are the Russian Federation and Ukraine, with shares of 55 percent and 28 percent, respectively, of regional aquaculture production (Fig. 2) (FAO, 2000a).

The extreme situation seen at present should not be considered as an appropriate basis for insightful quantitative analysis, given that production appears at almost zero levels for some countries. There are uncertainties as to the accuracy of data, and production may well be higher than reported, but it is evident that aquaculture production has dropped considerably.




If, for the sake of comparison, one looks at the figures for specific aquaculture production per caput, within the European Community (EC), a figure of 3 kg/caput is obtained, while it is 0.4 in the countries of the former USSR area. Another major distinction is that about 75 percent of EC production is mariculture compared to 8 percent in the countries of the former USSR area. For freshwater aquaculture, the value is 0.73 kg/caput in the EC and 0.34 in the countries of the former USSR area. These parallels may indicate potential for development, both for marine aquaculture (although climatic conditions may be less favourable) and freshwater aquaculture, given the immense freshwater resources that are available in the countries of the former USSR area.

The total annual renewable freshwater resources (ARFR) of the countries of the former USSR area is about 5 306 km3, while it is only 1 395 km3 in the EC. If specific freshwater aquaculture production is recalculated on the basis of the ARFR, for 1997 it equates to 21 mt/ km3 in the countries of the former USSR area and 195 mt/km3 in the EC, almost a ten-fold difference. Such information indicates the potential for freshwater aquaculture development in the region, even assuming that considerable freshwater resources are contained in the permafrost. However, aquaculture production represents some 2 percent of the region’s capture fisheries harvest, which is well below the share of global aquaculture in the world’s total fisheries production with about 30 percent.

  As with aquaculture, capture fisheries production also decreased after 1990, but this decrease was not so dramatic and was measured at -17 percent between 1992 and 1997.

The region has shown the direct opposite of the aquaculture trends seen generally elsewhere in the world, decreasing in importance and providing a lower share of the total aquaculture production. It is suggested that the potential for aquaculture development, both in marine and freshwater conditions, remains largely untapped and that despite the abundance of natural resources, the current stagnant position will slowly improve in line with general economic consolidation.

Comparison of regional production trends

The 15 countries of the former USSR area can be grouped in five subregions, based primarily on geographic conditions and on hydroclimatic homogeneity, although the Russian Federation is, due to its size, subject to a wide variation of geographic and hydroclimatic conditions. The subregions referred to are:

  • The Russian Federation;
  • The Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania;
  • Eastern Europe: Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine
  • The Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia; and
  • Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

In 1997, the division of aquaculture production within the subregions was the following: Russian Federation (54.4 percent), Eastern European States (32.5 percent), Central-Asian States
(9.4 percent), Caucasian States (1.0 percent) and Baltic States (1.9 percent).

The subregional share of aquaculture production shows a close connection to the populations, which are 50.5 percent, 22.5 percent, 2.6 percent, 5.6 percent and 18.8 percent, respectively. This connection is more pronounced than that between aquaculture production and renewable water resources. The tendency towards a dramatic decline of aquaculture production between 1990 and 1997 has been very similar in all subregions, but was highest in Russia and Central Asia (-77 percent) and lowest in the Caucasian States (-65 percent), although production in Georgia dropped to virtually zero.




Some recovery has been seen since 1996, notably in Russia, and the general position is that the downward trend has halted. This seems to indicate that the aquaculture sector is recovering from the shock, but will remain dependent on improvements in the economic environment. Obtaining a full recovery of the aquaculture industry to reach the levels of production seen in the 1980s will probably take a long time.

Population growth, demand and consumption

The total population of the countries of the former USSR area was 291.7 million in 1998 (FAOSTAT, 2000), with 50.5 percent of the population in the Russian Federation, 22.5 percent in the Eastern European States, 18.8 percent in the Central Asian States, 5.6 percent in the Caucasian States and 2.6 percent in the Baltic States. The forecasts for population growth in this region appear to reflect the global projections. Although the population increase for the whole region is expected to be around 1 percent (295 million by 2020), there are significant differences between subregions. The biggest increase can be expected in the Central Asian States, where an increase of 28 percent is anticipated, the population reaching 70.2 million by 2020. Increases of 10 percent are forecast for the Caucasian States, while a decrease of -14 percent is expected for the Baltic States. According to United Nations (UN) projections, population decreases are also forecast for the Russian Federation (-5 percent) and the Eastern European States (-4 percent).

The share of marine species and related products is 85 percent of the total fish consumption in the countries of the former USSR area. The vast majority is derived from capture fisheries, noting that marine aquaculture represents only 8 percent of total regional aquaculture. Fish consumption is the highest in the Baltic and Russian subregions, as described in previous sections. There are countries where freshwater fish consumption (2.1 kg/caput) exceeds that of marine fish (e.g. Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are all under 1 kg/caput), indicating that freshwater aquaculture could play an important role in satisfying demands of future populations.

The peak figure in the countries of the former USSR area for the consumption of fish and related products was attained in 1986 with some 30 kg/caput, rising from the 1961 figure of 14 kg/caput, giving an APR of 3 percent.

  This increase was well above the world average of 1.8 percent during the same period. Significant developments were made in aquaculture production during this period, and the sector enjoyed government support, directly through subsidies and indirectly through research and development efforts.

In fact, fish consumption started to decline from 1987, reaching the low of 13.3 kg/caput in 1997, lower than the 1961 average. Indications are that fish consumption will increase in the future, but the new and complex regional context makes accurate prediction risky. If fish consumption were to increase at an annual rate of 4 percent until 2020, then 25.5 kg/caput would be reached (still lower than 1986). Where the current percentage of aquaculture within consumption is currently 10-15 percent, this share ought to increase, and one could project 20 percent or more, thus contributing around 5 kg/caput by 2020. Based on a total population of 295.4 million in the region, the demand for aquaculture products could be 1.5 million mt. The aquaculture yield of the region (around 110 000 mt) in 1997 is less than 10 percent of the estimated demand for aquaculture products in 2020.

This simplified calculation does not account for anticipated regional differences arising from changes in population, consumer preferences and disposable income. For example, there will be a higher rate of population increase in Central Asia, where fish consumption is lower than average. Nonetheless, these arguments indicate both potential and a need for significant aquaculture development.

Aquaculture contribution to rural development and poverty alleviation

The political and economic changes in the region resulted in a dramatic drop not only in agriculture and aquaculture production, but also in the supply of fisheries products. The supply of frozen marine products from Russia decreased considerably due to the introduction of new borders, prices, regulations etc. Some countries like Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkmenistan practically lost their entire fishing fleet or their access to coastal waters. After 1990, food security became a major problem in most countries of the Caucasian and Central Asian subregions. Seven of these countries have been classified as LIFDCs: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in the Caucasian subregion; and Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the Central Asian subregion, with a combined population of 54 million people.




In 1997, the annual per caput gross domestic product (GDP) in these countries was below US$1 500, being only US$111 in Kyrgyzstan and US$240 in Tajikistan. Although many of these countries are now experiencing growth in GDP, and humanitarian aid contributes to alleviating the food supply problems, the fight against poverty will remain an important issue in this region in the future.

Aquaculture does not play a significant role in the economy of these countries, but the contribution of aquaculture to poverty alleviation should receive more attention in the future, paying particular regard to use of the water resources available, especially in Uzbekistan and Georgia. Uzbekistan is the third largest aquaculture producer, after Russia and Ukraine, and an increase of production from the present 7 490 mt up to about 20 000 mt would be an important contribution to the improvement of food supplies, as well as providing employment.

Aquaculture virtually disappeared in Georgia, a country of five million inhabitants, even though it possesses the sixth highest (63.3 km3) renewable water resources within the region. This could be a good basis for future aquaculture development. Aquaculture could also be taken into account as a method for poverty alleviation in the two other Caucasian countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, there is limited scope for aquaculture development in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where aquatic resources are scarce.

In some subregions, the changes in the political system were accompanied by the ruin of large collective agriculture farms, causing high local unemployment and reducing the local availability of animal protein resources. At the same time, the fish farms, which were previously integrated into the collective farms, served in many cases as the basis for the successful launch of aquaculture enterprises which, in turn, contribute to the re-establishment of protein supply.

Role of aquaculture from a development context

Aquaculture has an important role in certain subregions and localities, but its general weight in the overall economy is relatively low when compared to other agricultural sectors.

  Aquaculture can be considered as a method of poverty alleviation in some LIFDCs, as discussed before, and can also be integrated into rural development programmes. This would be particularly applicable in the countries where aquaculture (especially pond-based fish production) has a long tradition. Modern aquaculture systems (intensive cage culture and water recycling systems) could also be applied in certain coastal and inland areas, where appropriate infrastructure and inputs are available. The main obstacles to aquaculture development are, however, the lack of local financial resources and the loss of confidence among potential foreign investors.

The European Community (EC) is the largest donor to the New Independent States (NIS), which excludes the Baltic States, in this region. EC funds have been provided mainly through the Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) programme, which assured about Euro 3.8 billion between 1991 and 1998 to the region, including Mongolia. About 50 percent of TACIS support has been allocated for nuclear safety, the environment, restructuring state enterprises, private-sector development, public administration reform, social services and education. Agriculture and food components represent about 9 percent of the total support, but the share of aquaculture within this has been minimal.

The other main donors to the region are the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Bank (WB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Japan, with similar patterns of fund allocation. Development assistance programmes in aquaculture have targeted principally the rehabilitation of sturgeon stocks in the Caspian region.

Potential for aquaculture development

The aquaculture sector was relatively strong and well organized in the former USSR. Production development was supported by effective, diversified and well-integrated research and development activities. An advanced regulatory framework was also in place. In spite of fragmentation (due to the disintegration of the former USSR) and lowered efficiency (caused by serious financial constraints), valuable human resources, knowledge and experience are still available.




The region possesses impressive aquatic resources, both in coastal areas and inland, which could be fruitfully exploited for aquaculture production without deterioration of the environment. Technological enhancement of the aquaculture sector could be supported effectively by a well-developed industrial structure that is undergoing reorganization and seeking new tasks and customers for the future.

The regulatory framework is undergoing substantial change, a process that will probably continue for some time, but such progress as has been achieved is providing a constructive base for the management of aquaculture development. It appears that the region’s aquaculture sector possesses the basic capacity for providing a significant increase in production through the application of effective and sustainable technologies. This capacity needs to be matched more precisely with market requirements. Nonetheless, the degree of success in development that could be attained is intrinsically linked to the overall economic development of the countries of the former USSR. The support measures provided through an adequate regulatory framework should assist development.

Aquaculture generally had a good public perception in the past. It may, therefore, be expected that the traditionally positive and welcoming approach towards aquaculture from both public and institutional environments would continue. However, further efforts will be necessary to maintain positive and affirmative public acceptance. If, however, competition for resource use develops, conflicts could develop around the need for additional infrastructure and support necessary for the exploitation of the resources.

Culture-based fisheries represent a significant share of current regional aquaculture activities. Related issues of management of natural populations should be of particular interest to the aquaculturists. Aquaculture has never been considered to be a tangible source of pollution in the region, and attention should be paid to the image of the sector, avoiding antagonistic situations that could constrain development. Given that regional aquaculture producers may not be powerful enough to form an effective producer association for treating sectoral issues, international collaboration takes on special significance.


Efficient use of primary resources

There are outstanding possibilities for aquaculture to be an efficient user of primary resources, through the revitalization and modernization of the operating sector. Pond aquaculture has a long tradition in the countries of the former USSR, an activity that has been always based on the utilization of primary resources. There is great potential for furthering pond aquaculture in the region, based on the prevailing conditions and wide market acceptance of the species that feed low on the food chain. The application of appropriate polyculture technologies could not only assure that the primary resources are utilized efficiently, but also that fish ponds could play an important role in the recycling of organic wastes.

Culture-based fisheries can provide a most efficient utilization of primary resources and can be practised in water areas that are unsuitable for conventional aquaculture. However, the efficiency of primary resource use will depend on numerous factors that include the pollution of watersheds and the stability of legislation related to the assurance of land rights.

Expansion and the availability of water and land resources

The Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus all have water resources that would enable aquaculture expansion, since the combined quantities of available freshwater represent 93 percent of regional availability. Such expansion would not necessarily mean the construction of new ponds or other facilities, but also the reconditioning of existing systems and the further development of culture-based fisheries.

The area of reservoirs and lakes used for this activity could be significantly increased by improved stocking and integrated resource management, which could be supplemented by commercial lake management and recreational fisheries. Recreational fisheries are already playing a significant role, notably in the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and the Baltic States. It can be expected that its significance will increase with economic stability. Consequently, one can predict that use of resources will increase.





The traditionally homogeneous patterns of production (semi-intensive pond culture) and species composition (dominance by common carp) should be diversified in the future for the purposes of sustainability and market requirements. Presently, the main goal of most farms is to increase production volume and revenue, while accounting for the market needs and buying power of the local population.

The producers that are close to urban areas will increasingly compete with high-quality imported products. Aquaculture production should move towards diversification towards higher value and/or better appreciated species such as salmon, trout, whitefish and sturgeon. Only a limited number of cultivated species can be seen in published data of commercial aquaculture production, but numerous other species of fish, molluscs and crustaceans (both fresh water and marine) are grown in small-scale farms within the countries of the former USSR area. Considerable applied research has been conducted to develop farming technologies for indigenous and nonindigenous species. This situation may provide some potential for the introduction of different underused species into regional aquaculture, although great care must be applied, particularly with introductions and transfers of nonindigenous species from other regions or between catchment areas within the region, to ensure that no irreversible adverse impacts on local and regional aquatic biodiversity occur. Nonetheless, additional research would be needed to develop, update and adapt the farming systems within the current operating environment.

Intensification: increased productivity

Intensification is seen as a very important option for successful aquaculture development in the region, its extent varying with local circumstances. The introduction of modern fish feeds, greatly underused in the past, provides significant potential for improving productivity. The stocking levels in most farms are very low, mainly due to the poor availability and high costs of feeds and other input materials. Renovation of the local feed industry, improving ingredient quality and processing technology (with particular reference to the production of high-quality fishmeal) would play a critical role. Additionally, the productivity could be increased through the use of stock lines having improved performance.

  Improved water and husbandry management, combined with the use of improved feeds, can make a significant contribution to raising productivity, remembering that climatic conditions will affect the efficiency of many productivity-raising components.

Increased culture-based fisheries

Culture-based fisheries has a long tradition in the region, which is a good basis for future development, especially in view of the presence of numerous reservoirs. An important area for culture-based fisheries is the Caspian region, where several international projects assist the rehabilitation of sturgeon stocks and several sturgeon hatcheries have been installed or modernized.

Salmon production in the Russian Far East, through culture-based fisheries and marine ranching, can also be considered as an example of sustainable stock management. Rises in juvenile production could be expected to be as high as 5-7 percent per annum. Developments could include the transformation of small existing salmon research stations into full-scale hatcheries/nurseries, as has been done at number of sites at Sakhalin.

In the southern area of the Russian Pacific coast, efforts could continue to increase the production of seaweed, molluscs (e.g. scallops) and a number of other candidate species. In the Baltic States and North Russia, the restocking of salmon stocks should continue, and commercial salmon farming could influence future developments.

Countries around the Black Sea possess tangible perspectives for considerable developments for mussel culture and the lagoon ranching of mullets. In North Russia and Estonia, as well as in the mountainous regions of other countries, the lake ranching of several species of whitefish could be continued.

In the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova and, on a smaller scale in the Caucasian and Asian States, the further expansion of culture-based fisheries can be foreseen in large water bodies. The capacity of inland culture-based fisheries in the Russian Federation, excluding the higher value species (salmon, whitefish and sturgeon), was estimated to be at least 1 million mt. However, increased stocking for culture-based fisheries in inland waters should be supported by the development of a small-tonnage fishing fleet and the wide introduction of specialized fishing gear.




The increasing importance of recreational fisheries in urban and tourist areas should create additional demand for stock management and supply activities.

Integrated aquaculture

There are both longterm traditions and theoretical scope for the integration of pond aquaculture with other sectors. The advantages of integration have been recognized and technologies are known, having been applied for many years. There are about 1 million ha of water bodies in the Russian Federation being used conventionally by agriculture (e.g. for irrigation). At the present, only 10 percent of these waters is used for integrated aquaculture, and this share could be significantly increased. The integration of aquaculture with rice production and irrigation is very common in the Asian States; unfortunately, pollution appears to be a restricting factor for increasing this type of production scheme, at least in the short term.

Successful actions for integration appear to be problematic, and integrated resource management policies, effective farmer associations and an appropriate institutional and legal framework need to be developed and implemented if satisfactory conditions are to be provided for this aspect of development.

Increasing technical efficiency

This is a key element for future aquaculture development in the region. The network of qualified research and development institutes, combined with a highly developed industry that is currently restructuring, creates a good basis for increasing technical efficiency. The aquaculture sector has demonstrated a sizeable capacity to adapt to new technologies. However, given the evident economic difficulties, long production cycles, substantial investment costs and prolonged pay-back periods on investments, it should be considered that state-supported aquaculture development programmes are inevitable if the technical efficiency of the sector is to be increased.


Getting more people involved in aquaculture

Significant changes have occurred, and are still happening, in the employment patterns in the countries of the former USSR area. While it is difficult to predict the numeric possibilities of employment, the potential for the expansion of many of the sectoral components is clear. Consequently, employment will increase in line with sectoral development. On the other hand, new aquaculture entrepreneurs could face problems created by unsettled property and tenure rights; a factor that may inhibit the rapid development of identified opportunities. In addition, newcomers to the sector will probably face problems relating to the availability and quality of special education, essential for the technical work in aquaculture. The EASTFISH project is addressing some of these problems, but further comprehensive international activities that target such requirements are needed.

Community involvement

A positive public attitude to fish farming exists in the region, but community involvement or interest in aquaculture concerns will depend on numerous other issues associated with the current transition. Associations of aquafarmers should devote special attention to the widening of their public relations and community participation, building up an “attractive” image of aquaculture. Attentive consideration to these tasks would be expected from the policy makers as well.

Key issues and constraints for aquaculture development

Technological issues

Valuable human resources are readily available for assisting the required technological developments, but the main questions are how to mobilize these resources and how to provide the necessary technical and financial conditions for success. Pondfish production technologies will continue to dominate freshwater aquaculture, but the gradual development of culture-based fisheries, sea ranching and marine aquaculture is expected within the next decades. Cage culture (both fresh water and marine) could be predicted to become more popular because of increased productivity and higher flexibility in farm management and business planning.




In the Eastern European subregion, pondfish culture will probably remain the major activity, a situation similar to that in the Russian Federation. There is also some scope to increase marine aquaculture in Ukraine, which has 2 766 km of shoreline on the Black Sea. In 1997, only 1 mt of marine aquaculture was reported, a negligible figure compared to the 352 000 mt sea catch.

In the coming period, it is unlikely that industrial aquaculture will have a significant share in overall production quantities, but its output could be substantial, particularly in climatically suitable areas.

Institutional issues

While substantial change is occurring in the regional institutional systems of the countries of the former USSR area, it has to be recognized that it will be a long time before the transformation is complete and efficient operation attained. Intra-regional national differences can be considerable, not only in respect of traditions and past advances of their institutions, but also in the state of progress of current economic transition. External assistance targeting institutional reform should continue and even be intensified, while considering thoroughly the local and regional specificities and socio-political factors. Participants in such programmes of cooperation and assistance must be adequately qualified and motivated, but will only be effective if the content is given due recognition by governments, policy makers and legislators.

Socio-economic issues

The socio-economic changes are transitional, reflecting the move from a centralized, planned economy to one that is market-led and oriented. The problems experienced in aquaculture are the direct consequence of this transition. Socio-economic aspects should get a high priority in the planning of aquaculture development, while their objectives would differ within the countries of the former USSR area. Poverty alleviation should be the first priority for aquaculture in the LIFDCs. Elsewhere, aquaculture could supply good business opportunities, in addition to the activities of crop integration and stock enhancement.

The Caucasus nations and four of the five countries of the Central Asian subregion are classified as LIFDCs and face serious difficulties.

  There is a need for humanitarian aid in these countries, but low-input aquaculture could also contribute to the improvement of rural life. Even if scope at present is limited for aquaculture development, returning fish production (mostly low-value fish for rural populations) to former levels would make a significant contribution to the food supply of the population of this poor subregion.

In the Russian Federation, the traditionally significant role of capture fisheries could, in some areas, influence the development of commercial aquaculture. At the same time, the specificity of aquaculture is that activities related to restocking and rehabilitation of aquatic resources are very significant, and such patterns would be expected to continue. Since aquaculture is of long tradition in the region, its development would contribute to maintaining rural populations, helping to improve the quality of life and preserving cultural values.

In the Baltic States, the limited aquaculture production focuses on common carp and trout. Economic reforms have been progressing well in this region, and economic assistance is also directed toward these countries from Scandinavia. This has given rise to a better entrepreneurial environment in these states, which may have positive effect on future aquaculture development. The move from large-scale, centrally managed aquaculture to small-scale independent production units would be in line with the philosophy of transition, and the resulting increase in numbers of small-scale producers would cause change in some social patterns.

Environmental issues

The region did not give enough consideration to the environment in the past, and significant environmental degradation has occurred through pollution from heavy industry, and chemical and forestry-related activities. While agriculture has been a source of pollution, aquaculture has not been implicated at all.

Sustainable development has become an overriding strategic issue in the region, especially in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic States. Rapid expansion of commercial aquaculture could sometimes face some obstruction by environmental groups. On the other hand, environmental disorders, such as aquatic pollution by other sectors, could hamper aquaculture development, especially activities related to culture-based fisheries.




Recreational fisheries and stock enhancement activities would be expected to contribute both substantially and directly to improved environmental management. In many cases, the rehabilitation of transboundary watersheds, which may be necessary for aquaculture development, could be achieved through international cooperation.

Throughout the region, the national governments need to create an “enabling” environment for development, requiring the urgent reestablishment of the appropriate intergovernmental agreements. The application of the principles held within the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF) is to be encouraged

Financial and economic issues

The prolonged economic recession in the region has affected aquaculture development significantly and, for a number of countries, political stability can be regarded as a precondition for further development.

Within the region, the availability of financial resources is quite high and, as in many emergent economies, a significant amount of venture capital is present. Major obstacles for obtaining financial inputs are:

  • the question of unsettled property rights;
  • the need for longterm credits; and
  • the lack of experience in the aquaculture sector in working with financial institutions, and vice versa.

In the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the Baltic States, aquaculture entrepreneurs have to compete with the fishing industry for investment capital and loans. In addition, aquaculture insurance is practically unavailable. State support for aquaculture includes tax benefits, state loans and credits. However, the tax concessions appear to benefit the traders rather than the producers, and the state loans seem to emerge as the preferred option. The international credit lines, which are administered through national banks, do not appear to have had much impact on aquaculture development. Increasing the role of producer associations and providing the professional links, where appropriate, should be encouraged and expanded within such programmes. Improving the financial and economic education of aquaculture entrepreneurs at all operational levels is necessary and should be encouraged through international training programmes.


Marketing and trade issues

The domestic markets of the region are huge and represent excellent potential for aquaculture, not only for fresh but also for frozen, canned and processed products. The estimated demand is considerably higher than the current supplies available from aquaculture. Consumer preferences vary widely with the region, reflecting national or local preferences. While carp and herbivorous species are popular practically everywhere, sturgeon and salmon can also be sold easily in most of the countries. Eels find buyers mainly in the northwest, and whitefish has markets in the northern area of the region.

Aquaculture products will face competition from frozen seafood, traditionally popular in most parts of the region, and work should be done to improve distribution and retail networks in order to provide fresh/chilled products to a wider consumer audience. The provision of fresher products, having a wider range of processing or preparation, will bring the sector closer to the consumer, but would also provide significant opportunities for building and operating specialized aquaculture units near urban or recreational areas, assuring restaurant and consumer supplies with the appropriate products (including live fish, crustaceans, and mariculture products).

Research and development issues

The region needs new, demand-led multi-disciplinary research programmes that focus on specific issues related to the planned technology requirements but with special regard to environmental and socio-economic aspects.

Both research infrastructure and funding have deteriorated, and international support is needed for cooperation and the revitalization of the region’s scientific resources. In order to ensure that national and international support for research and development is properly targeted, well-focused identification of priorities and selection of approaches and procedures for distribution of resources should be employed.


The disintegration of the former USSR caused a decline in aquaculture production, with a similar pattern in all the countries, despite considerable variations in their national economies.




This indicates that the root causes of the process were general problems of the transition from a centrally planned to a market economy, which are indeed problems that are not related specifically to the aquaculture sector. This also leads to the conclusion that the solutions required for aquaculture development cannot be found within the sector itself, the more so as aquaculture is a relatively insignificant and weak part of the national economies in the countries of Eastern Europe and the former USSR area.

The transition period has proven to be a painful and prolonged process. Despite improved macro-economic stability since 1996, the investment climate has not improved, and other social conditions have deteriorated. These include aspects of local and national security, social security, education and poverty. Market reforms and private-sector growth have been disparate, resulting in large income differences in many countries.

Financial crises continue to affect the region, unemployment is high, poverty is increasing and food is expensive. These and other problems such as inefficiencies in the production, processing, marketing, transportation, banking and legal systems will take years to address successfully. Nonetheless, many countries are now showing growth in GDP, albeit at levels that are less than half of those experienced prior to transition.

The region possesses valuable natural and human assets that represent significant resources for aquaculture development, including experience, technology and research capacity, factors that can be further strengthened and combined to respond to the immense market potential of the region.

Approaches and strategies for aquaculture development

The two main directions for aquaculture development in the majority of the countries of the former USSR area could be:
the revitalization and development of the existing inland aquaculture sector, mainly pond-based fishfarm complexes; and
the development of culture-based fisheries.

The share of coastal and marine aquaculture may increase through new developments, but freshwater aquaculture will probably remain dominant, especially when considering the immense freshwater resources.

  While it is doubtful that freshwater aquaculture will regain the levels attained before transition, there is a need for coordinated efforts from all players in regional aquaculture in order to be competitive with other resource users and to meet the new challenges. Integrated resource use management should be considered, as much as possible, during the future development of aquaculture in the region.

The multifaceted nature of aquaculture and the potential multipurpose use of facilities offer unique opportunities for the creation of viable businesses, not only through fish production, but also by providing services for other sectors (e.g. juveniles and stocks for recreational fisheries, sport fisheries and angling ponds etc.). Pond aquaculture, however, will remain the major producer for species that feed low in the food chain, a particularly important aspect in rural areas. Scientists and aquaculturists in the region could play a leading role in promoting such diversification and developments, focusing on the development of “new” fishpond technologies, where waste recycling, appropriate polyculture and “organic production” would be the major elements. Within the restructuring of the aquaculture sector, any strategy for development must include the resolution and stabilization of land ownership rights and the improvement of the infrastructure for marketing and distribution.

Opportunities for inter-regional and international cooperation

Inter-regional cooperation has become one of the key issues for the countries of the former USSR area, where former links were broken or became inefficient after the disintegration of the USSR. The structural and financial problems have hindered the re-establishment or creation of prosperous collaboration. The participation of professionals or scientists in international aquaculture organizations and networks is very weak, and few are able to participate in international conferences, primarily for financial reasons.

Cooperation and development go hand in hand, and it should be of interest, both to the aquaculture sector in the countries of the former USSR area and to the international aquaculture community, that such collaboration be intensified. The improvement of cooperation between transition countries in order to exchange information and learn from each other’s experiences should also be high on the agenda.




Although there have been some sporadic efforts, very limited support has been given to this idea, much less than in other regions of the world.

These countries have only very limited resources to advance collaborative efforts for aquaculture development, and the few, limited local initiatives have had very little effect. Professional and personal links have remained between the Russian Federation and the new independent states, even after the disintegration of the USSR. These provide a good base for realising regional collaboration in the future.

A recent, positive development has been the establishment of several producers’ associations, in particular the Association of Inland Aquaculture Enterprises8, for improvement of the information exchange between aquaculture enterprises. Also, the organization of regional and international aquaculture conferences has become more regular in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and one would hope that other countries of the former USSR area could also be involved, particularly in topics of high regional priority.

The establishment of consolidated databases and directories is also of great importance within this context of cooperation in the new and complex situation in this region. The first steps in this direction were taken within the framework of several international projects, and national fishery databases are under development in the Russian Federation, Belarus and the Baltic States.

The twinning of institutions should be encouraged and promoted, both within the region and elsewhere, and would provide an excellent basis for longterm collaboration. As an example, the “International Council for Research and Development Co-operation in Water Bioresources Research and Aquaculture” was created by several aquaculture enterprises, regulatory bodies and research institutions from Ukraine, Russian Federation, Poland, Belarus and Moldova. Amongst its activities, the council holds annual meetings that are devoted to the problems of developing inland fisheries and aquaculture during the transition period.


  Although the majority of the countries of the former USSR area are signatories to the main international treaties and participate actively in the work of international organizations, most countries in the region are inadequately represented in the international aquaculture organizations, such as the World Aquaculture Society (WAS), the European Aquaculture Society (EAS) and the European Inland Fisheries Advisory Commission (EIFAC). Improvement of this situation would be of equal benefit to the countries and the organizations concerned. Better use could be made of the EASTFISH project, a project managed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), one of whose goals is the stimulation of aquaculture trade within the region.


FAO. 2000a. FISHSTAT Plus – Version 2.3.

FAO. 20000b.


Laureti, E. (compiler) 1999. 1961-1997 fish and fishery products: world apparent consumption statistics based on food balance sheets. FAO Fish. Circ. No. 824, Rev. 5, 424 pp.


1 [email protected]

2 [email protected]

3 [email protected]

4 [email protected]

5 [email protected]

6 Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

7 All fish consumption figures provided are annual and in kg/caput unless otherwise indicated.

8 Rybkhozassociation