The authorities of Uzbekistan try to restore fishing industry in South Aral Sea region by tax exemptions and millions worth financial investments, yet have failed to solve the problem of water scarcity.
Ecological innovations area
Previously, Aral has been one of the richest fishing areas in the world – the annual volume of catch in water bodies of the Aral Sea region until 1991 was 20-25 thousand tonnes. Over 80 per cent of locals had been involved in fishing, fish processing and transportation of fish and fish products.But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the volume of production in the aquaculture sector declined several times – to 4.2 thousand tonnes in 1995-2006. As of October 1 this year, the catch in the Aral region was slightly over 6 thousand tonnes. All products are supplied to the domestic market of the region and Uzbekistan. The authorities of the country have paid much attention to the development of fishing industry in recent years. If Uzbekistan had no focused policy and strategy of fishing industry development before, now it develops a programme for integrated development of fishing industry until 2021. Since recently, there is the fund for fishing development in Karakalpakstan, which finances research and selective and breeding works, develops modern feed formulas, introduces modern technologies into fishing industry, prevents and treats fish diseases, prepares investment projects to develop the industry. Also, there is the newly created Uzbekbaliksanoat Association, which contains 13 local subdivisions that ensure coordination of works in the fishing industry at the local level. Until January 1, 2023, the Association and its members have been exempted from unified tax payment, and the released money is used primarily to support fish farms, strengthen physical infrastructure and to pay material incentives to workers. Membership in Uzbekbaliksanoat is a mandatory provision for renting natural ponds, and is optional for entrepreneurs renting artificial ponds. Fish farms pay rent depending on the area in hectares and the catch. According to Amantai Bekturganov, chief inspector of the state tax office of Karakalpakstan, now the republic has 1,490 fish farms. They possess 85.4 thousand hectares of land, including 2 per cent of artificial ponds. On August 24, the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev suggested to declare the Aral Sea region as the area of environmental innovations and technologies. And on November 7, he signed the order for further development of fishing industry. The document specifies a stage-by-stage transition to intensive fish farming. The state will allocate 50 million dollars to finance the projects. Moreover, since January 1, 2019 all fish farm clusters producing at least 50 tonnes of fish per year shall be exempted from all kinds of taxes and mandatory deductions to state specialised funds. And before November 1, 2021, the farms will be exempted from customs duties (except for customs clearance fees) on equipment, tools, mechanisms and their spare parts, required for fish production, as well as mixed feed and mineral fertilisers.
More water needed
Once famous for its fish, South Aral Sea region tries to adapt to the new conditions. The economy in the region is today mainly supported by cotton production, cattle breeding and growing melons and gourds. The people are mainly engaged in trade, agriculture and provision of services.According to the Karakalpakstan department of the tourism development committee of Uzbekistan, the number of tourists visiting the Aral region increases every year. In the last nine months, local hotels have accommodated 11,433 tourists. This is 80 per cent more compared to last year. In mid-November, the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev visited Muinak district. He has noted that the district is rich in phragmites and ordered to organise companies to process it and produce construction materials from it in order to provide jobs to young people. And also he has advised to grow goats that adapt easily to the ambient environment and eat almost everything. However, the head of the state has again ordered to develop fishing industry here. But despite the development programmes, tax exemptions and millions of dollars, there are factors that hinder the development of the industry. One of them is the irregular water inflow to the ponds in the lower reaches of Amudarya during the spawning season. The majority of water remains in cotton and grain fields. Salamat Azhibaev has been engaged in fish farming for 15 years. He rents natural ponds in Takhtakupir, Muinak and Kungrad districts of the South Aral Sea region, but development rate of his business remains low due to the water scarcity. “This year we have had little water, therefore, fish grows slowly. In addition to the rent of ponds, we also sell fish wholesale. We buy fish from other fish farms and then supply it to consumers, but the lack of water has caused a drop in fish yield of other fishers,” Azhibaev said. In early November this year, Shavkat Mirziyoyev has ordered the ministry of water resources to enter into water use contracts with fish farms until April 1, 2019, and to provide them with water in required amounts. Currently, agriculture in the South Aral Sea region uses 97.1 per cent of water. For comparison: 1.2 per cent of water is used by community facilities, 0.3 per cent by energy industry, 0.1 per cent by industrial sphere, and 1.2 per cent by fish industry.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.