By Sergey Molakhov
The fish market is paradoxical, since we boast huge potential to rear fish yet tend to import frozen fish from abroad, usually of bad quality. Last year alone, Belarus purchased 180,000 tonnes of fish and sea products, while our domestic producers supplied just 15,000 tonnes of fish internally; moreover, they even failed to sell it in full.
Belarusian fish can remain in aquariums for weeks, without enjoying demand, yet a queue gathers if a truck selling live fish stops nearby. The first Fish of Belarus trade fair — recently held in the Minsk Region’s Cherven — is a bright example, gathering specialised fish-breeding organisations, entrepreneurs, farmers and traders. Never before had the town seen such crowds, with daily queues forming at each stand selling lake and river fish: live, frozen, chilled, smoked and air-dried. By midday, everything was sold out. Meanwhile, a shop nearby with its own aquarium sold no fish at all.
Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich attended the fair, noting that fish production must be increased, alongside enhancement of deep processing. He visited Volma fish-breeding company, noting the need to reduce costs. Mr. Myasnikovich stresses that fish prices should be cut for buyers, admitting that current prices are quite high in our country.
Specialists expect these ‘fish problems’ to be settled in the coming five years. In 2010, Belarus completed its five year state programme for development of the fish industry; major tasks were fulfilled, with revival completed. Now, a new state programme for the development of fish-breeding has been elaborated and adopted.
At present, Belarusian shops offer quite a limited range of fish, with carp accounting for 83 percent of the total volume. Pricier fish — sturgeon, salmon and catfish — account for no more than one percent but the Director of the Agriculture and Food Ministry’s Department for Melioration and Water Economy, Anatoly Bulyn, believes that, by 2016, this figure should rise to 2,500 tonnes a year. The new state programme is focusing on the breeding of trout and sturgeon. It’s quite possible that, in just a few years, Belarus-bred caviar from this fish could be available to everyone.
In fact, the fish industry has several ways of making Belarusian fish even more attractive to consumers. The Agriculture and Food Minister, Mikhail Rusy, tells us that fish prices should fall in coming years. Over 50 percent of prime costs come from fodder at present but Belarusian fish-breeding companies plan to use poly-cultures more intensively, while breeding silver carp, pike, catfish and grass carp together in a single pond. The move should raise competitiveness, while using fodder to the full and saving on expensive fish feed. By 2015, poly-cultures should account for at least 30 percent of feed, with about 11,000 tonnes of fodder saved. Selective-breeding will enhance productivity while reducing prices. Moreover, by 2015, seventy percent of all Belarusian fish-breeding companies will be breeding Belarusian and foreign carp.
Over 70 percent of fish are currently sold by fishery companies independently, via fairs and deliveries to shops and markets. Retail trade is slow but specialists hope to see the situation soon change, with all shops acquiring aquariums. They also anticipate large processing plants shifting from sea to fresh water fish, bringing a fall in prices, primarily for carp. Even if carp does not reach the price of pangasius, other significant advantages are foreseen: freshness and guaranteed quality.