5th International Carp Conference, 4-6 September 2019, Ansbach, Germany

5th International Carp Conference, 4-6 September 2019, Ansbach, Germany

Fish farmers call for more support, action on predators

In the last few years, it has become axiomatic, and at the same time motivating, to say that aquaculture is the fastest-growing food production sector. As production from capture fisheries has stabilised, an increase in demand for fish has propelled the development of aquaculture worldwide.

 

The FAO’s flagship publication on fisheries, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018,  reveals some interesting facts:

  • Over 64% of the world’s farmed food fish production comes from inland aquaculture typically in freshwater earthen ponds, but also raceways tanks, pens and cages;
  • In Asia, Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America, filter-feeding species are produced in a polyculture of species and ages to enhance fish production by using natural food and improving the water quality in the production system;
  • Finfish make 67% of the global aquaculture production (excluding aquatic plants) and 97% of inland aquaculture production;
  • At the global level, 47% of finfish productions are carps.

Central and Eastern Europe has an ancient tradition of carp farming. To maintain this tradition and to help it evolve, carp farmers’ associations from the region organise a biennial conference dedicated to carp farming and related issues. After events organised in Kazimierz Dolny (Poland), Wrocław (Poland), Vodňany (Czech Republic) and Zagreb (Croatia), this year it was Germany that hosted this important event. The 5th International Carp Conference took place in Ansbach, on 4-6 September 2019 and was organised by Verband der Deutschen Binnenfischerei und Aquakultur e. V. (VDBA) and the Verband Bayerischer Berufsfischer e. V. (VBB). The conference was attended by fish farmers and fish farmers’ associations from Germany, Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Czech Republic, Romania and Austria, as well as by researchers, markets specialists, biodiversity experts, and other stakeholders.

 

Red tape is still a huge barrier to development

 

The opening speech by Bernhard Feneis, the President of the German Association of Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture (VDBA) mentioned some key issues that were to be extensively discussed during the conference, including, the bureaucracy which overburdens SMEs involved in carp farming, the need for better communication between carp farmers and consumers and also between farmers themselves, the impact of global warming on carp farming, the damage caused by predators which reduces the contribution carp farming makes to biodiversity, the need to attract young farmers into the business, and the role of carp farming in cultural and environmental protection.

The first part of the conference was dedicated to interventions by European and national associations. Speeches held by Kathryn Stack (FEAP), Bernhard Feneis (Copa Cogeca), Michal Kratochvil (CFFA – Czegenrach Fish Farmers Association), Cătălin Eugen Platon (ROMFISH – Romanian Fish Farmers Association) and Bela Halasi-Kovacs (NAIK – Hungarian uHunNational Agricultural Research and Innovation Centre) focused on the importance of pond fish farming for society and on the importance of communications between farmers and consumers.

Carp offers farmers a number of advantages

Historically, the use of common carp for farming purposes was based on several advantages it had over other species: prolificacy, simple reproduction, and the ability to adapt to a wide range of water quality conditions. Farming carp with associated species in polyculture or in multitrophic integrated fish systems is not new. Ponds were used alternately for fish and cereals (or other crops) to improve the yields of both. Using science to improve traditional ways of pond farming improved the sustainability of carp production by including in the stocking formula species which recycle unused nutrients or by using nutrients which generate other aquatic organisms like phytoplankton and macrophytes (on which the fish can feed).

Another important issue debated at the conference was the imbalance between pond farm and predator management. For more than two decades pond fish farmers have been asking for a European management plan for cormorants which, together with other birds or mammals, like herons, pelicans, and otters, are causing serious and documented damage mainly to carp farms. The need for this management plan was mentioned in 1994 by the Scientific Committee of the Bonn Convention and later by two European Parliament Resolutions in 1996 and 2008.  Since 1979, when the Birds Directive was published, the number of cormorants has increased astronomically, and since the right measures were not taken in the ‘90s, the challenge now, after 25 years, is far more difficult to solve.

The role of carp farming in providing ecosystem services for the benefit of society has been mentioned since the early 18th century. The most important services are nutrient recycling, primary productivity, and biodiversity maintenance. As the EU emphasises green production, the circular economy, sustainable practices, and biodiversity protection, pond fish farming which makes a significant contribution to all these areas, must be officially acknowledged.

 

Scientists and producers work together for mutual benefit

 

An important partner for the carp farmers is the research establishment. Topics like the impact of climate change on carp farming, spring mortality of carp, the conservation of genetic resources of common carp, or nutrient sequestration in traditional pond farming were extensively discussed by scientists from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. One fact that emerged was that aquaculture, and especially traditional carp farming, has one of the lowest carbon emissions in the field of animal husbandry.

In spite of pond fish farming’s green credentials, the EU is far from being a global leader in aquaculture production. In terms of carp and associated species the EU produces only 86,000 tonnes of fish from 400,000 ha of ponds or around 200 kg/ha – much lower than the potential. Data on the carp market in the EU presented by Ekaterina Tribilustova, market analyst for Eurofish, and in-depth analyses of national carp markets in Germany, Croatia, Poland and Austria provided a basis for discussions on marketing strategies and better communication. The lack of a coherent communication campaign to inform consumers about carp farming, its environmental-friendly technologies, and about its contribution not only to the rural economy but also to the quality of life of city-dwellers, needs to be remedied as soon as possible.

 

The level of support for fish farming should be the same as that for agriculture

 

Pond fish farming is usually a family business, organised almost always as an SME. But, while other forms of agriculture are entitled to various forms of support that make the activity attractive for investments and draws young people into the business, fish farming does not benefit to the same extent, although it is a part of agriculture. These differences between policies and forms of support for agriculture and those for aquaculture provoked animated discussions at the conference. More seriously, they are also causing more and more pond farmers to consider using their ponds to produce crops or to move to other economic sectors altogether which ultimately could have a huge impact on the rural economy and on the ecosystem. Nevertheless, some good examples of young carp farmers, mainly from Germany, Poland and Romania, continuing their parents’ and grandparents’ work were presented at the conference.

The stagnant growth in farmed fish and seafood production in the EU can be attributed to the over-abundant national, regional, or local rules, permits, authorisations, licences, studies, applications and other documents needed to maintain a working pond farm. Talks, debates and analyses about cutting the red tape suffocating the industry are made regularly at European or, in some cases, at national level, but have had little or no impact.

 

Conference concludes with unanimously approved resolution

 

The format of the International Carp Conferences provides the participants with a resolution integrating the main topics discussed and the action needed at various decision-making levels. This years’ document, approved unanimously by the participants focused on three vital elements:

  1. Changes in the status of protected species – Carp ponds are suffering from increased pressure from fish predators such as cormorants, otters and others. Carp farmers cannot bear all the costs of protecting biodiversity and should be allowed to protect their ponds from predators. Urgent legislative changes in the status of protected species, especially fish predators, are required.
  2. Financial compensation for ecosystem services – Carp ponds are more than just sites of fish production. The ecosystem services arising from pond farming serve society in general and preserving the environment cannot be the burden of the fish farmer alone. Therefore, fish farming should be compensated for production losses and for the costs of environmental services, in the same way as other forms of agriculture.
  3. 100% EU funded carp promotion – There is a need to treat carp as an extraordinary fish species due to its “green” production methods. Moreover, the vast majority of carp farms are small family businesses that lack the capacity to plan, design, and launch a marketing campaign. This initiative should be fully supported by the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund 2021 – 2027.

As often happens in life, the conference ended with a beginning – the start of the Bavarian carp season in Wassertrüdingen, a town in the district of Ansbach, where fish was prepared for consumers – and paperwork for bureaucrats!

The presentations from the International Carp Conference are available at: https://www.karpfen-konferenz.de/pl/home-interational/

 

Catalin Platon, Romanian Fish Farmers Association, catalin.platon@romfish.ro

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