Central Asia on Path to Reviving Its Seafood Market
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Central Asia on Path to Reviving Its Seafood Market
Central Asia on Path to Reviving Its Seafood Market

The region's fishing and fish farming sectors need new technology and investment to reveal their great potential

Distant fr om the world’s oceans, the countries of Central Asia don’t enjoy significant achievements in fishing.

Nevertheless, fish is a key component of local aquatic ecosystems and among the most important water-dependent resources of Central Asia. 

Downs and ups of fishing sector 

A landlocked region of dramatic landscape diversity achieved its greatest performances in fishing in times of the Soviet Union.

By the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, regional fish production reached more than 110,000 metric tons, according to the study by the Central Asian and Caucasus Regional Fisheries and Aquaculture Commission (CACFish), established under the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) Constitution.

Transition to a market economy caused a sharp decline in the fishing sector of Central Asian countries.

By the end of the last century, reported capture had dropped by roughly three-quarters before progressively recovering to about 50 percent of its previous level. 

However, there is a prominent difference between countries. 

Since 2000 Kazakhstan has managed to stabilize and then slowly increase fisheries production to about half of its pre-independence level. 

Regardless, this progress was slow and disappointing. Landings from the Caspian Sea, which had been declining for more than a decade, remained on this trajectory after country’s independence. By the late 1990s, Kazakhstan’s harvest of sturgeon and beluga was approaching zero and the government’s plan to increase fish capture up to 51,700 metric tons by 2006 has not yet been achieved: annual fish catch during the second decade of the 21 century was often below 32,000 metric tons.

According to official data, an overall fish harvest in Kazakhstan amounted to 31,800 metric tons in 2021.

Turkmenistan has stabilized its fish catches at a level well below 40 percent of the pre-independence level, accounting for around 500 metric tons per year. 

Uzbekistan, which was never a major fisheries player, is the only Central Asian state wh ere current fisheries capture exceeded that prior to independence, amounting to around 100,000 metric tons; progress in recent years has been rapid and sustained.

Although Tajikistan’s fish capture has increased in recent years, its production and that in Kyrgyzstan, the other mountainous, water-rich country, was and remains negligible. 

Aquaculture: underused potential 

Aquaculture is a key element of food production in Central Asia, which enjoyed a long history of development and sustained support during Soviet times. With government encouragement, the output of fish farms reached almost 260,000 metric tons by 1990 before plummeting following the demise of the Soviet Union.

Most farms were unable to operate profitably without state support. Production in all five newly independent states reached a low point between 2003 and 2008, yields in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan was virtually nil. 

The aquaculture sectors of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan diverged sharply between 1991 and 2020. Uzbekistan has managed to boost its production to a level exceeding that achieved in the Soviet times by more than 50 percent. Eventually In 2022, aquaculture production in the country exceeded 150,000 metric tons.  

Kazakhstan achieved only moderate success in utilizing old Soviet aquaculture infrastructure. 

As of 1994, there were only 18 fish farming facilities in operation. Many functioned as hatcheries or nurseries for carp and related herbivorous species.

However, later on, Kazakhstan managed to significantly increase farmed fish production: from 2,700 metric tons in 2017 to 19,200 metric tons in 2022.

Aquaculture production in Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan also grew in the last 10 years with an annual growth ranging from 1.5 percent in Turkmenistan to 22.3 in Kyrgyzstan.

According to the World Bank, in 2021, aquaculture output in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan was reported at 10,300 metric tons and 160 metric tons, respectively, while the volume of domestically produced farmed fish in Tajikistan exceeded 2,000 metric tons.

Despite moderate achievements, the Central Asian states have good potential in fish farming. A plenty of rivers, springs and freshwater lakes, including the world’s second-largest high-mountain lake, Issyk-Kul, provide an abundance of freshwater resources for aquaculture, especially for the production of common carp, grass carp, silver carp and rainbow trout.

Markets need more fish

The average annual per capita consumption of fish in the Central Asian states is much lower than annual per capita consumption of seafood worldwide, running from the biggest level of around 5 kilograms in Uzbekistan to the lowest level of less than 1 kilogram in Tajikistan.

These figures don’t meet market demands. For example, the need for fish in the domestic market of Tajikistan, given per capita consumption of 9 kilogram, established by the country’s government, is more than 86,000 metric tons. To meet the global standard, the country needs 160,000 metric tons of fish per year. 

Meanwhile, Tajikistan produces just around 2,000 metric tons of fish annually and imports slightly more. 

In other Central Asian states, the situation is not much better, which indicates great potential for the development of seafood markets.

The governments of these countries are striving to saturate domestic seafood markets both through the development of their own fisheries complexes and by increasing imports.

The first direction requires large investments and technologies in the creation of fishing, fish farming and processing facilities. The second needs new seafood suppliers.

Both depend on international cooperation, supported by global seafood events and exhibitions.

SEAFOOD EXPO EURASIA is a new international seafood event designed to bring together fishing, farming and processing companies and fisheries-related communities from around the world, including Central Asian countries, and help them work more closely to establish new business contacts.

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