Population: 9,8 million
GDP: €124 billion
GDP/capita: €12 300
Overview of the Hungarian fisheries and aquaculture sector
Hungary, being a landlocked country, does not have a marine fishing fleet, and it also stopped commercial fishing on its inland waters on 1 January 2016. As a result, the bulk of the domestic fish supply is coming from aquaculture. A lesser amount is represented by selective fishing for ecological purposes (i.e. culling of nuisance fish), whose catches can be sold on the market accompanied by a catch certificate. However, this amount represents only 2.3% (130 tonnes) of the total natural-water catch. The bulk of the volume caught in natural waters (5 477 tonnes) is caught by recreational fishermen and anglers, which goes to the self-consumption and is taken into account in fish consumption statistics. Hungary had about 450 000 registered anglers in 2017, who, therefore, play an important role in the management of fisheries waters. There are 2 250 registered fishing areas in Hungary with a total area of 162 539 hectares. The fishing rights of most of these areas belong to the State and are leased out with long-term contracts. As the priority is given to angling-oriented fisheries management, the majority of these areas are leased by the National Federation of Hungarian Anglers and its member associations. The fisheries management activities (e.g. restocking, control, exploitation, etc.) of the holders of fishing rights must be based on a fisheries management plan approved by the fisheries authority. Anglers are among the most important customers of the aquaculture sector (as the fish for restocking is produced in aquaculture), and their demand for certain native species (mostly bream and predatory fishes) is an important driving force behind the development of rearing techniques in aquaculture.
Aquaculture in Hungary has a long history, going back in time as far as to the Middle Ages. The book on fish ponds by Jan Dubravius (1547) praises the fish ponds of the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490), specifically mentioning the fish pond of Tata (which is operational even nowadays). Still, medieval aquaculture was mostly limited to monasteries and the nobles’ courts. It was only after the regulation of the rivers in the 19th century, which ended the previous legendary fish richness of Hungary, that the development of modern aquaculture started.
In 2017, total aquaculture production of Hungary was 1 257 tonnes, whereof pond aquaculture was responsible for 14 893 tonnes. This meant a 11-12% increase compared to the previous year. The production volume of intensive aquaculture was 3 364 tonnes (4 percent increase). The aquaculture sector employed a total of 1 805 persons in 2017.
Pond fish culture is carried out on over 26 000 hectares in 2017. This area is shared by 381 enterprises, indicating a relatively small average pond area (less than 70 hectares). Although, there are some major farms with several thousand hectares’ pond area, fish is traditionally produced semi-intensively in earthen ponds, rearing several species, mostly common carp (Cyprinus carpio), silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix), bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus) and predatory species (wels (Silurus glanis), pike (Esox lucius), zander (Sander lucioperca)) together in polyculture in order to better utilise the natural food resources. Supplementary feeding is done with cereals, and thus, this type of aquaculture is not dependent on the fish meal and fish oil supply. Common carp is still the most important cultured species (82% of the total food fish production). The typical production cycle of common carp lasts three years, although technologies are available for a shorter-cycle production.
A growing subsector of aquaculture is intensive fish farming, which is done at 21 sites. The most important intensively reared species is African catfish (Clarias gariepinus), of which Hungary is the biggest producer in Europe, having increased its production from virtually zero to over 3 000 tonnes in twenty years. Other species in intensive systems are sturgeons (Acipenser spp.) (mostly for caviar production) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), but there is a growing interest towards intensive rearing of valuable indigenous predatory fishes (wels, pike, zander) as well.
Processing and trade
Fish processing is relatively underdeveloped in Hungary. Many fish producers have built on-site fish processing units in the recent years as a way of adding value to their products and meeting market demand. Most of these do primary processing, such as filleting. The number of processing plants producing more sophisticated products such as boneless, kitchen-ready products is quite limited. Independent processing plants (i.e. not linked to fish farms or shops) are practically non-existent in Hungary, although there is a number of enterprises doing repackaging of imported seafood.
More than the half (62% by value) of the processed and packaged fish comes from import (84% imported from EU, sometimes re-exports of imported raw material). The bulk of this fish consists of Alaska pollock (about 50%), hake (20%) and Atlantic salmon (16%). Within the processed freshwater fishes, about 60% (1,124 tonnes) were of domestic origin in 2013, with a total value of about €2.5 million.
The foreign trade in fish products has been dynamically increasing in the last decade. However, its structural weakness lies in the fact that Hungary mostly exports raw material (live fish), while it imports highly processed value-added products. Hungary is a net importer of fish products: the export value was €19.4 million in 2017, while the import value was a little over €90 million, which means there is a trade deficit of €70.6 million.
Fish consumption has been steadily increasing (28% in the last five years), but it is still one of the lowest in Europe. Per capita fish consumption was 6.4 kg in 2017, which is about a quarter of the EU average. This growth in apparent consumption is partly due to growing domestic production, and partly, to increasing imports of fish products. In terms of the consumption structure, 30.7% of the consumed fish was purchased in live, fresh or chilled form, frozen fish products accounted for 36.1%, and 33.2% of the consumption came from preserved and canned fish (2016). About 80% of the consumed fish comes from import (mostly marine fish).
On the other hand, Hungary’s per capita consumption of common carp (1.2 kg) is the highest in the EU. While fish consumption is still mostly seasonal (about 30-35 percent of the total annual fish consumption is eaten in the Christmas period), the development of fish processing and the large fish product range of the international retail chains have helped to increase demand at other times of the year as well. Another important factor has been the fish promotion campaigns launched by both the government and the farmers. In addition to an EMFF-supported campaign promoting fish consumption, the Hungarian Aquaculture and Fisheries Inter-branch Organisation (MA-HAL) also organizes several fish cooking and fish tasting events throughout the year (many of them are also supported by the government). The government also puts much effort in to increasing consumer trust in the quality of fish products, e.g. by quality awards, certification marks and geographical indications.
The aquaculture sector of Hungary faces several challenges, including the lack of workforce, the need for sustainable intensification of fish production, raising the profitability of fish farms, improving water efficiency and decreasing the environmental impact of fish farms, recognizing the ecosystem services provided by fish ponds, coping with the damage caused by fish-eating animals and the risk of Koi Herpes Virus. For a higher level of fish consumption, it is crucial to increase the range of processed products, to improve traceability and to increase consumer trust, but it is also necessary to increase the profitability and competitiveness of the fish processing sector.
Useful Links for Hunary
• Fisheries and Aquaculture Website of the Hungarian Government
• Ministry of Agriculture
• Hungarian Aquaculture and Fisheries Inter-branch Organisation
• National Federation of Hungarian Anglers
• National Agricultural Research and Innovation Centre, Research Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture
• Research Institute of Agricultural Economics
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