Fisheries and Aquaculture crisis in Central Asia

Dramatic drops in production – regional cooperation key to solving the problem
November 12, 2008

Fisheries and Aquaculture crisis in Central Asia 

Fisheries production in the Central Asian and Caucasus republics has plummeted dramatically in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union and today the region's fishing and aquaculture sectors are in a state of crisis, FAO warned.

Nine FAO member countries from Central Asia and the Caucasus are meeting in Tajikistan this week to discuss the situation and begin formulating a coordinated response.

Plummeting production and consumption
Between 1989 and 2006 annual inland fisheries and aquaculture production in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan fell from between 60 to 72 percent.

Tajikistan's production dropped 94 percent, and Kyrgyzstan's 98 percent, during the same period.

Azerbaijan Armenia and Georgia saw similar reductions in fisheries outputs (92%, 81%, and 98% respectively).

As a result, fish consumption in the entire region is down - to less than 1 kilogramme per capita per year - and fish and fisheries products have largely disappeared from the population's diet.

While historic data on fish consumption in the region is sparse, figures from Uzbekistan show that per capita consumption levels of 5 to 6 kg/pc/yr were not uncommon in the 1980s. Global average fish consumption is around 16 kg/pc/yr.

Combination of factors to blame
According to a background report prepared by FAO for this week's meeting, multiple factors have combined to produce the collapse. These include:
~ overfishing and poor management;
~ dramatic cuts to investment in research and production facilities;
~ decreased spending on maintenance of fleets and hatcheries;
~ weak management of water bodies and other ecological problems, including pollution of rivers;
~ a lack of investment in modern processing and marketing facilities and equipment.

Another FAO study from 2007 noted that privatization of fisheries and aquaculture following the end of the Soviet Union occurred too rapidly and was plagued by corruption, leading to poor management and oversight of the sectors.

The UN agency says that poaching is common in the region's inland waters and that illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a widespread problem that also affects the aquaculture sector.

The meeting of FAO member countries from Central Asia and the Caucasus is set to conclude on the 12th November. It could wrap up with initial steps being taken to establish an intergovernmental fisheries body that would lead efforts to rescue fisheries and aquaculture and promote their future sustainable development.

Regional collaboration in fisheries has been missing in Central Asia for almost two decades, according to Ndiaga Gueye, Chief of FAO's International Institutions and Liaison Service. "In situations like in Central Asia and the Caucasus, the individual countries lack the capacity to develop their sectors on their own," he said. "But examples from other regions, such as the Network of Aquaculture Centers in Asia-Pacific and the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean show that regional collaboration can be highly effective, and provide a real boost to efforts to support sustainable development and management of the sector," he said.

This week's meeting is being convened at the invitation of the government of Tajikistan. FAO, with its extensive experience in supporting regional collaboration in fisheries and aquaculture, co-sponsored the meeting and is providing technical assistance and advice to the countries involved.

Countries participating in the meeting include Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Turkey.