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Czech Fish Farmers Association
Czech Fish Farmers Association

        In a course of past decades, the Czech fish farming industry was defined by its both farming technological level and volume of produced fish, i.e. without any closer market connection. After the changes of political and economic climate, such assessment has had no justification. A professional level of fish farming remains still high, nevertheless a real final effects of the industry are measured exclusively through a sale of fish in the market, through an ability of fish to compete within a spectrum of substitute food items, in addressing both the local and foreign consumers. On one hand, it has its positive features, on the other hand it has also its problems. Let me briefly look into this broad field.

        Instead of introduction, here are some basic data. On the territory of the Czech Republic, there are more than 24 thousand ponds (mostly built in the 15th and 16th century) having an area of about 52 thousand hectares. Of this, about 33 thousand hectares of ponds are managed by the members of the Czech Fish Farmers Association, 6 thousand hectares are managed by non-members and more than 2 thousand hectares are owned by other subjects (mostly municipalities). About 10 thousand hectares of ponds are managed by local angler´s clubs for both rearing the stocking material and fishing. Production of salmonid fish is an integral part of the Czech fish faming industry (altogether about 10 farms producing about 800 tonnes of fish). In several individual cases, fish are produced in floating cages situated in water reservoirs and/or in rearing units specialized in production of both stocking material for streams and ornamental fish.

        As a results of political and legislative process of transition together with a food price liberalization, a production of fish passed through more or less pronounced ups and downs. From the maximum of 20.8 thousand tonnes in 1992 it decreased to 17.2 thousand tonnes in 1998. After this failure, caused particularly by a price competition of substitute food versus an unappropriately adjusted price of fish, the production volume of fish started to increase again and in 2000 (19.5 thousand tonnes) nearly reached the maxium from the begginnings of the ninethies.

        In a species structure, carp still dominates (about 87 % of total production) followed by salmonids (not quite 5 %), herbivourous fish (not quite 4 %) and tench as an traditional export species (not quite 2 %). Highly demanded predatory fish are limited by their pond production conditions and therefore their proportion is only about 1 %; nevertheless, their role in export market is unreplaceable.

        Export of fish is an important feature of the Czech fish farming industry. It represents annually more than 40 % of the total production of the market fish; remaining not quite 60 % reaches the local market. Both in export and local market, a live fish still dominate (tradition as well as the lower price compared with processed fish is in a background). It is encouraging to say the proportion of processed fish slightly increases in the last years and in a domestic market (due to a development of super- and hypermarkets) the processed fish represent about one quarter (in live weight) of the totally consumed fish. There is a theoretical potential of the domestic market for an increased freshwater fish consumption, anyway the reality referrs to only 1 kg of consumed fish (in live weight) per person and year. It is clear the future will be based predominantly on a consistent managing (rather economic than technological) of fish processing which - as it is seen in many countries - can lead to an increased domestic consumption of fish.

        Nevertheless, the Czech fish farming industry can be characterized not only by statistic data. There is no doubt that a non-quantifiable value in evaluating its historical legacy in form of ponds built by our forefathers belongs to the positives. Managing of ponds and pond-fish farming is linked together with history, culture, social aspects. A fish pond farming itself plays an important role in protection of living environment and nature conservation (from the water management and antiflooding functions to diversification of animal and plant species and/or unreplaceable landscape-creating task of pond systems). Moreover, a fish farming is a model contribution to ecologization of Czech agriculture. The public functions of ponds fulfill in many forms the collective social requirements and their importance goes very often beyond the fish production itself. A pond culture of carp is also characterized by both economic and ecological approach because it is based on natural food (zooplankton, zoobentos) supplemented with cereals only as a source of energy. Such carp is produced under extraordinary advantageous feed conversion, moreover such carp flesh has a pronouncedly higher sensoric and biological quality compared with fish fed with complex feed mixtures. Basically, a carp produced in this way is in fact a bio-product, delivered to the market for a very reasonable price. Based on a new Breeding Act, fish are now registered as a standard farm animals which increases the reputation not only of fish culture itself but also contributes to strengthening of breeding work with carp, tench, trout and European catfish. In a social interrelation, the Czech fish farming industry offers more than 2200 full job opportunities, particularly in rural regions with a shortage of employment positions.

        On the other hand, there are negatives as well. The dispersed and remote ponds in a landscape is a pronounced disadvantage which requires much higher managerial effort, higher costs and more sophisticated protection agains predators and poachers. This dispersion, economically negatively affecting the individual producer, is on the other hand socially balanced through a retention of water in a landscape, valuable relations to a living environment, creation of culture landscape and other contributions which are not, unfortunately, counterbalanced to a producer. In the last years, adverse relations are increasing between the protected predators and suffered damages to fish. These detriments (in ponds and streams altogether) represent annually about 160 million of Czech crowns, of which 43 % referrs to cormorant, 29 % to otter, and about 28 % to heron. An economic pressure on producers includes also the very hard conditions of management of ponds situated in nature conservation areas, the extreme requirements of nature conservationists and definitely a very low participation of state on financial covering of both maintaining the pond landscape (particularly by removal of excessive mud from fishponds) and public or social interests.

        The farm-gate prices of carp are a topical problem. A price development (copying a trend of prices of other substitute food items and reflecting a rise of production costs) broke down in 1997. Price of pork and poultry dropped down and consumers decreased their purchase of carp. Parallelly, export market responded in the same way as domestic outlets. This was followed by a non-coordinated price decrease culminating in price panic (small producers not equipped with holding reservoirs and forced to sell the fish just at the pond dam realized the fish for a dumping price). The price decrease did not stop and even in 2000 the farm-gate price of carp was lower by 10 % compared with 1999. At present, low price of fish persists even at increasing production costs. Moreover, many of out-of-production aspects requiring funds (e.g. retention of water, antiflooding protection, regulation of aquatic regime in a given microregion, nature conservation, retaining of washed-off soil against its runoff into the streams etc.) enter into the economics of fish production. This situation is no longer acceptable and already now it is reflected in strong limitation of funds for farm investment, reconstructions and/or maintaing the ponds, it leads to job dismissing and many others. The present price of fish does not consider the different nature conditions which handicaps those producers who produce the fish in climaticly disadvantageous regions.

        Actually, a high siltation of ponds is the most serious problem. It originated in the past socialistic era as a result of vast washings-off of agriculture soil into the ponds. This pond siltation limits a production capacity of ponds and - what is much more important - can lead to diminution of ponds in a landscape accompanied with all its aquatic, ecologic, and landscape-creating consequences. Although there is no connection to any fish farming elements in the background, economic impact of pond siltation on price of fish is evident and in a professional fish farming society leads to certain resignation upon unwillingness of governmental administration to deal with this problem.

        To speak about the nearest future of the Czech fish farming industry means first and foremost to analyse a market of fish. The volumes of produced fish will be clearly bound on a reality of domestic and export market. There is no any indication that a market demand will increase in a short period and that a present-day pond fish farming should leave its up-to-now ecologic way of production and change its methods in favor of increased production intensity based on feeding of complex feed mixtures (which is economicly much more demanding).

        There is no reason to await extra dramatic production changes in the Czech Republic. A production capacity of ponds is historically given and there is no doubt that carp remains a dominant fish species. Stability of a fish farming sector will be determined by the economic background of production which again speaks in favour of its ecologic character based on natural food.

        It is imposible to predict a development of an export market in the nearest future. In the countries of West Europe, the Czech carp as a dominant export fish has and even will have a character of regional product. Its consumption can be changed in a dependence on exchange of human generations and diet habits but also on its comparative price to salmonids. Moreover, other East-European countries can very intensively enter into this market with their own offers of fish, so there are many unidentified factors in a game.

        There is no doubt that the Czech fish farming industry must act much more effectively on both domestic and export market. At present, fish exports are a matter of interest of several European wholesalers utilizing some of our trading weak points. Their Czech counterpartners are the individual producers. This must be changed in favour of strong domestic trading company which will defend a reasonable price of high-quality Czech fish still having a healthy sound on foreign market. Regardless the decreasing prices of carp in Europe in the last years, such trading institution (due to the fact the Czech Republic is a decisive exporter) could help to stabilize a price, at least. Contrary to export markets, much more effort must be invested into a domestic market. Fish meet a very strong competition of substitute food which price is generally lower (it is quite logical /chicken reaches its market weight in a few weeks, carp needs three or four years/ but a consumer need not to respect this fact). Moreover, costs of out-of-production functions of ponds influence the price of fish as well. In the last three years, several millions of Czech crowns from fish producers (members of the Czech Fish Farmers Association) pocket have been also placed into a promotion of domestic fish consumption. Up to now, no any pronounced effect (measured in increased fish consumption) has revealed. Present farm-gate prices of fish are able to cover the costs of farm operations as a maximum. Of course, this is not covering the basic elements of future farm stability, let alone an expansion. A concentration of sale of fish into the last quarter of the year is also a problem. Such concentration including a natural uncertainty of production result (from unstable climatic conditions to unvaluability of development of substitute food prices) in the preceding three quarters contains itself an extensive part of risky business. Even here, under these conditions, a foundation of well-thought-out fish trading companies can be a solution (one such company covering a sale of one third of fish produced in the Czech Republic was established in the beginning of this year).

        The Czech fish farming industry, existing for more than 500 years, enters into a period in which even a well advanced breeding methods cannot help themselves. Its future will depend exclusively on appropriate market philosophy, on well-worked-out marketing strategy and also - and this is very important - on public, social and as well as economic understanding that ponds (which will be here even in future) exceed in their importance the mere fish production limits. To enforce the fish in a market - this is an exclusive matter of fish producers; to appreciate the social multifunctioning of ponds which should be accompanied with adequate economic compensations - this should be a matter of society and state. Without mutual understanding and coordinated advancement, the Czech fish farming industry will stagger in uncertainties.

Adress of author:
Ing. Václav Silhavy
Czech Fish Farmers Association
Prazska trida 58
371 38 Ceske Budejovice

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