Sector shows potential for growth

Albania’s rich water resources promise an abundant future for the country’s aquaculture sector, both freshwater and marine, but many problems and limitations must be overcome before that promise is realised.

Given the slow and ultimately finite growth of marine and coastal capture fisheries, it is likely that future growth in seafood production will come mostly from aquaculture. However, aquaculture productivity has remained static for the past eight years at approximately 2,500 tonnes annually. Aquaculture has not continued to grow, mainly because of the low levels of technology and husbandry used, the current dependence on expensive imported products such as juveniles and feed, and Albania’s proximity to the much larger and more efficient aquaculture industries of Greece, Croatia, and Italy.

Koran (Salmo letnica) is bred at a government hatchery to restock the Ohrid lake.

 

Opportunity for different kinds of fish and shellfish farming

In its marine and estuarine waters, Albania benefits from a wide range of environmental conditions that make it suitable for different forms of aquaculture. Its coastline of 418 km is divided between the shallow Adriatic Sea in the north and the deep Ionian Sea in the south. The coast also features 10,000 ha of lagoons that are used to cultivate fish and shellfish, as well as rivers, lakes, artificial lakes, and reservoirs. Salinity, temperature, wave height, and current-flow conditions make Albanian waters suitable for the marine farming of high-value species such seabass, seabream, and potentially, meagre.

Inland waters also offer conditions conducive to aquaculture, which are concentrated in the lakes Ohrid, Shkodra, and Prespa. And the abundance of groundwater also offers opportunities to farm different species of freshwater fish.

 

Production dominated by mussels and seabass

In 2013, aquaculture production in Albania provided approximately 1,700 tonnes of finfish and 750 tonnes of mussels. Excluding longline production of mussels, the main production systems are sea cages for seabass (982 tonnes) and seabream (336 tonnes) with six operators working in the town of Sarandë in Vlorë County in southern Albania, where they take produce in the Ionian Sea. The production of trout in raceways is the second largest form of finfish aquaculture. Twelve operators produced 379 tonnes, mainly located in the cooler highlands of southern and eastern Albania. Eighteen tonnes of carp were produced in earth ponds in the lowland areas, where water temperatures are sufficiently high to maintain pond productivity and fish growth.

 

Competitive environment for marine aquaculture

Marine aquaculture is the fastest growing subsector of Albanian aquaculture, but is still very small and unsophisticated compared with seabass and seabream production in Greece, Italy, and Turkey. Currently, no marine hatcheries operate on a commercial basis in Albania, and so all fingerlings are imported, as is feed. As a result, Albanian farms are simple on-growing units that cultivate the fingerlings from <5 g up to 300–500 g over 16 to 18 months. Generally, most sales are to local restaurants and outlets, but some of the large processors such as Koral Fish now buy from local farms.

The largest sea-cage farm produces approximately 450 tonnes a year, with 25 full-time staff (all male) and six part-time staff (all female). The smallest produces only 12 tonnes annually, with a staff of four. Although marine-cage culture has grown quickly since 2000, there are signs that this growth is not without problems. Low ex-farm prices (the result of strong production from the rest of the Mediterranean) and the high cost of imported fingerlings and feed mean that producers will continue to struggle with narrow margins.

 

Freshwater aquaculture focuses on trout

Freshwater aquaculture consists predominantly of trout farming, but production is limited to about 400 tonnes.
The distribution and sale of trout is primarily on the domestic market.

In inland aquaculture, the farming of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) takes place mainly in raceway systems using diverted river water. The farms vary in capacity, with two farms delivering more than 75 tonnes annually, and the remaining 12 producing less than 35 tonnes. There is also an unquantified number of small, subsistence “backyard” farms producing less than 5 tonnes annually for subsistence and local sales. Most farms are small, single-site operations with 2–3 full-time staff and 1–2 part-time staff. Approximately a third of trout farms have their own hatcheries, but all feed is imported. Inland carp production reached only 18 tonnes in 2013, much reduced from previous years. The decline in extensive agriculture systems, and the encroachment of urban development into agricultural lands, means that many water bodies no longer exist, and the demand for carp restocking has fallen dramatically over the past decade. Today, only four active carp hatcheries exist, with a total pond capacity of approximately 28 ha.

Another area of Albanian aquaculture has been the restocking of Ohrid Lake with trout. The main programme is the rearing of the koran in circular tanks for restocking to support this important commercial fishery. The government-owned hatchery, Stacioni i Linit, in Pogradec is fed by a spring with a constant temperature of 10 °C. The hatchery produces approximately 800,000 fingerlings (3–4 g) that are released into the lake each autumn.

 

Mussel production rises and falls

A significant production of rope-grown mussels is farmed in the Butrinti lagoon and in waters off the port of Shengjin. In 2014, mussel production doubled to roughly the 2010 level of 1,500 tonnes. Mussel farming has been practised in Albania since the 1960s with volumes ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 tonnes per year. Mussels from Albania were even exported to the EU until the mid-1990s, when problems with disease resulted in an EU ban that has not yet been lifted. The production is therefore sold locally with some exports to neighbouring countries. The inability of the mussel industry to have the ban lifted, however, is a symptom of deeper underlying problems in the industry. The mussel farming industry is concentrated in Butrinti lagoon, where approximately 25 producers are growing mussels. Owing to the producers’ failure to form a growers’ association, they compete among themselves, resulting in lower prices, which prohibits investment. This creates a downward spiral of limited production, indifferent quality, and low prices that is hard to break.

The water in Butrinti lagoon is classified as B grade, which requires that all mussels undergo a period of purification (depuration) before export to the EU. A depuration centre was established some years ago, but has been used only infrequently since then. Further, exports to the EU are contingent upon a robust system of recall that will ensure that products found to be hazardous can be traced and removed from sales channels quickly and efficiently. In addition, the safety of products must be demonstrated with reliable and accurate laboratory analysis. In Albania, this infrastructure is not yet in place, making the lifting of the ban impossible.

 

Sector support through aquaculture planning

Currently, aquacultural regulations are included in the fishery law, but a new aquacultural act has been drafted and is currently being finalised. Although this brings Albanian aquacultural regulation up to date and includes essential elements such as the development of allocated aquaculture zones (AZAs), it may be necessary to develop aquacultural-specific environmental impact assessment (EIA) controls and regulations, especially as marine aquaculture expands. Spatial management is a major element missing from Albanian aquaculture planning. A comprehensive assessment of potential aquacultural areas is needed, both at sea and on land, in order to identify AZAs.

Mussels being harvested from waters in the Shengjin bay. Producers look forward to being able to export to the EU.

Although long established in Albania, aquacultural development is still chiefly small-scale and semi-intensive. However, as Albania moves closer to EU membership, foreign partners are showing increasing interest, both technical and purely financial, in developing aquaculture in marine waters as well as the lakes, streams, and groundwater resources in upland areas for trout and other high-value species. With this potential expansion comes a need to ensure sustainability in environmental implications, social responsibility, and integrated planning. A key to this will be allocating AZAs that will allow cumulative EIAs and environmental carrying-capacity studies, strict water quality standards that are aligned with the EU’s Water Framework Directive, and importantly, the high-level inclusion of aquaculture in coastal and rural development planning. A further element is biosecurity, in both marine and inland waters.

 

The need for further education and training

A major barrier to development of the private aquaculture sector is the limited experience of sector participants in modern aquaculture practices and technology. Some of these needs can be addressed through training, but knowledge must be developed through experience, suggesting that joint ventures with experienced and well-regarded foreign partners will play a key role in strengthening Albania’s domestic aquacultural capacity into the next decade. Currently, the only higher education establishment for aquaculture is at the Agricultural University of Tirana, which also manages the Fisheries and Aquaculture Laboratory in Durrës and operates Tapiza Carp Hatchery and the Tapiza water reservoir.

 

The National Fisheries and Aquaculture Strategy

The high-level objective for aquaculture is to establish a competitive and sustainable aquaculture industry that contributes to national food security and blue growth. There are four specific development objectives:

  •       Develop the aquaculture sector through a holistic, ecosystem-based, strategic-planning approach that is reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
  •         Facilitate investment in aquaculture by identifying allowable aquaculture areas as part of a multisectoral marine and inland-water spatial plan.
  •         Develop a diverse, technically competent, and internationally competitive aquaculture industry that thrives in, and contributes to, European seafood production.
  •         Create synergies between national research programmes and collaboration within and between the industry and the scientific community.