Investment Opportunities in Georgia’s Fishing Industry

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The FINANCIAL — Despite high demand and historical traditions of using fish products in the country’s national cuisine, the fishing business in Georgia is losing its infrastructure.


Fishing companies are passing their licenses to Turkish and Ukrainian companies which are now almost completely occupying the sector. The cost of the license, lack of education in fishing and absence of accreditation to export fish products to European countries are preventing the industry from developing.

Fish used to be very popular in the west of Georgia. In his book Trip to Samegrelo, the seventeenth century Catholic missionary Arcangelo Lamberti, from Italy, described western Georgian cuisine as rich in fish products. Today fish is mainly cooked in seaside towns in Adjara, Poti and Abkhazia. In Central and Eastern Georgia however fish is not on the list of most popular dishes.

“Georgia imports more fish products than it exports. The most important species of black sea fish are anchovy (3 species), sprats (2 species), whiting, spiny dogfish, scads, pickerel, red mullet and mullet,” said Mikheil Didebulidze, Marketing Manager at Eurofishmarket S.R.L in Bologna, Italy. Didebulidze, a native Georgian, recently finished research of the Georgian fishing industry, where he analyzed the current situation and problems hampering the development of fishing.

The production of both marine and inland capture fisheries and aquaculture is very low. Before independence average yearly per capita fish consumption was 19 kg. At present it is four times less. Georgia imports (from different countries) more than it exports.

The most important species of black sea fish are anchovy (3 species), sprats (2 species), whiting, spiny dogfish, scads, pickerel, red mullet and mullet. The most important ports of Georgia are Poti and Batumi. The main resource is anchovy. The yearly anchovy quota is 60,000 tons, which the Georgian fishing fleet doesn’t have the capacity to utilize 100%.

Didebulidze believes that lack of equipment, education in fishing and absence of accreditation to export fish products to the EU are the main reasons for the non-development of the sector. “This means that Georgian children and students do not have the opportunity to learn about fisheries and aquaculture at school. Both university education and vocational school/practical training in fisheries are lacking. This will have consequences in the medium to long term for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture development in the country. However, the lack of a vocational school for practical training in fisheries and aquaculture is something that would better be addressed within Georgia,” he wrote in his report.

“Unfortunately Georgia isn’t accredited to export fish to the E.U., that means that local production can be addressed only to local consumers and to the neighbouring countries’ importers. This is the main reason why this sector is not developing. The accreditation of Georgia to export to the E.U. will attract many local and foreign businessmen willing to invest in fish farm development or marine catches therefore international trade of Georgian fishery products will be enhanced,” Didebulidze believes.

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Currently a very small part of the sea products produced in the Georgian Black Sea area are distributed around the country, including Tbilisi.

“There was no way of quickly transporting sea products on Georgian roads. Special disposable boxes made from sea water and wrapped in ice are necessary for transporting fish. There have also been no such boxes in Georgia,” Murman Kharabadze, Director of the company Madai, told The FINANCIAL.

Madai is a Black Sea anchovy fishing company founded in 2006 which received 3 mln USD credit from a Millenium Challenge project founded by the U.S. Government in 2009. Today the company employs 70 workers. Its annual salary fund is 700,000 GEL. The company is the first enterprise among fishers in Georgia which uses the fishing license itself, not passing it to Turkish companies.

This year company Madai will deliver fresh fish to Tbilisi’s inhabitants.

“Fishing is not simple. It is easier to breed cows than fish. No technical equipment is available to local fishers,” Luka Mosashvili, Director in Charge at fresh fish shop May Day,” told The FINANCIAL.
“There is natural sulphuric acid 200-300 meters beneath the surface and it poisons fish. More fish are found on the Turkish side. Usually the Mediterranean Sea is richer in fish and as a result the major share is imported from Turkey,” said Luka Mosashvili.

“At present the major share of fish from the Georgian area is exported to Turkey. Only 25% is used by the Georgian market. The major share is occupied by Anchovy and Trachurus which is mostly sold in seaside areas,” said Kharabadze, Madai.
Sturgeons from the Caspian Sea were the most popular fish used in Georgian cuisine during Soviet times. Sturgeon was mostly fried on a barbecue as that was a very easy method of cooking. Georgian cooks seem to have lost the knowledge of cooking damp fish. Only Laz, ethnic Georgians which immigrated to Turkey in the 17th century, kept the tradition of using fish in their major dishes.

According to the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources of Georgia (MENR) the major share of Georgian fish is exported to Turkey, Ukraine and Armenia.

“In 2006-2007 17,548,920 kg of fish was farmed in the Black Sea; in 2007-2008 – 26,003,485.8 kg; in 2008-2009 – 31,659,275.5 kg; in 2009-2010 – 39,993,433 kg; in 2010-2011 – 26,019,801.85 kg. Anchovy makes up the largest share, accounting for 25,918,786 kg; Merlangius – 55,309.20 kg; Scad – 26,767.55 kg; Grey Mullet – 654 kg; and sultan fish – 18,285.1 kg,” stated a representative of MENR.
Officials of MENR underline another reason that is causing a lack of development of the fishing industry in Georgia. “Excessive fishing during 1970-1980 significantly reduced the number of fish. The incursion of strange varieties affected the ecosystem of the water. In 1996-2005, 48 sorts of fish invaded the Black Sea. Polluted substances were another reason for the degradation of the vital environment for fishes. No one has been creating growing stations for larva and fish. Accordingly larva manufacturing is not systemized. No one is doing any competent, qualified scientific research. This has caused an informational vacuum and is delaying the process of planning and decision making. The certification of found fish or any documents proving legal fishing do not exist at all.”

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“Fishing is only partly developed in Georgia. Even though there is potential for its further strengthening and expansion. There are six licenses issued for fishing on inland capture fisheries and 7 licenses on the Black Sea. According to the licenses issued for inland captures, there are special fish thrifts. The owners not only fish, but also manufacture. They are multiplying and bringing up fish. Strengthening fishing activities inside Georgia is very important,” said MENR officials.

Licenses are mainly passed by Georgian companies on to Turkish and Ukrainian fishing companies. That is why the local market is always lacking fish products from the Black Sea.

“Georgians did not have the potential of seaside industry even during the Soviet period. Anchovy (120,000 tons), Sprattus and Trachurus were the only fish that were fished in Georgia. The major share of these fish was exported to Russia. Only seaside cities used them,” Kharabadze said.

The lack of development of the fish industry is also reflected in traditional cuisine. “Georgian cuisine is not rich in fish products. At our restaurant we have over 50 dishes and the majority of them are made by Japanese or European recipes,” Mosashvili said.

“Perhaps Georgian traditional fish recipes are lost or never existed at all,” he added. “Seaside town residents might know of such recipes however. When you live in Tbilisi though, it is easier to import pork from Gori than fish from Batumi. As Georgia is a mountainous country, cattle-breeding has always been more widespread than fishing,” he added.



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