Sustainability and Fisherman’s Soup: Aquaculture R&D in Hungary

A new program expands the research capacities for the small but historic Hungarian agro sector – Fish farming

Picture of a carp.
Beeld: ©Alexas Fotos
Carp is the dominant fish in Hungary's aqua farming sector. With recent R&D developments in rearing, feeding, and infrastructure, as well as new species introduced into industrial farming, the sector can now expand in new directions.

A recent public program, conducted by researchers from various universities and research institutes and funded by the Hungarian Aquacultural Operative Program (MAHOP), has made great strides in developing and expanding Hungary’s aquaculture R&D infrastructure.

The budget for the R&D development program RESEARCHFISH is €2 million. The aim of the program is to expand the research infrastructure supporting the husbandry of fish species used in aquaculture and fishing.

The participating researchers come from the Szent István University (SZIE), University of Debrecen, the Center for Plant Diversity and the Centre for Agricultural Research. Various new projects have been successfully completed within the program in areas including rearing, feeding and husbandry methods and technologies as well as aquaculture infrastructure enhancement.

One success story is the development of a low resource-input rearing system through new closed recycling pre-fattening technologies for the rearing and keeping of asp, ide, European chub and tench, and a technology for the closed-cycle keeping and feeding of the European perch. These new technologies can reduce the environmental impact of flow-through systems in aquaculture substantially.

Another project succeeded in introducing six new fish species with promising market potential into the aquaculture industry, including the necessary veterinary background research for their keeping and research has advanced considerably in the utilization of insect protein in feeding.

Other projects also targeted the improvement of aquaculture infrastructures. In the area of wastewater management, researchers created two water treatment methods for purification, one based on synthetic resin and one on hydroponics, both of which can dramatically reduce the nutrient content of effluent water. Two new floating cage systems have also been developed which are more adapted to domestic water environments, making the increase of production less reliant on natural resources.

Chub fish in a pond
Beeld: ©Richard Falta
The European chub is one of the farmed species for which low resource-input rearing systems were developed.

The improved infrastructure is also meant to aid knowledge and technology exchange and provide decision support research for policy makers.

Fish is an important food source in Europe today. While the EU’s aquaculture is more focused on maritime fishing, producing an aggregated annual 5.3 million metric tons in total live weight and €7.3 billion in economic value, aqua farming is still important with 1.4 million tons TLW and a value of €5.2 billion.

While aquaculture is currently not one of the primary agro industries in Hungary, fish has a historic place in Hungarian food production, water management and cuisine. Hungary’s aggregated annual output in freshwater aqua farming is 20.6 thousand tons, with the dominant production form being polyculture ponds.

The most widespread farmed species in Hungary is carp due to the country’s climatic and natural environment, while fish farms also raise small amounts of grass carp, Hypophthalmichthys (bighead carp), sturgeon, zander and northern pike.

An increasing trend is the introduction of precision aquaculture, which accounts for a production volume of 4.7 thousand tons, while intensive aquaculture is also expanding, with its dominant breed being the African sharptooth catfish.

The relatively small production is matched by low consumption figures as well. While the EU average in the consumption of fish is an annual 23-25 kg per capita, and the global average is 20 kg, Hungarians only eat 6-7 kg of fish in a year. 30-35% of this is consumed around the end of the year, concentrated around the Christmas period. Consumer tastes are changing however, and in recent years, the consumption of fish started to slowly, but steadily, grow. This trend might accelerate in the future based on the availability of products in the market.

Bogrács kettle over a campfire
Beeld: ©Flickr
Fisherman's soup is an iconic dish in Hungarian cuisine. As Hungarian grill parties frequently involve open-fire cauldron stewing it often makes an appearance at family events and festivals - And is routinely the crowning dish in inns' menus at traditional waterside touristic destinations, with restaurants, and even cities competing fiercely for the title of the best recipe.

While the Hungarian aquaculture sector is small (with around 1500 jobs in 2019), there is willingness to innovate. The COVID-19 pandemic was a shock to this industry which does not only produce for the domestic market but also for the HORECA sectors. With the recent economic hits, as well as the EU’s Green Deal in mind, the Ministry of Agriculture started planning a new national aquaculture strategy (More on this in our September 25 Newsflash).

Hungarian halászlé (fisherman’s soup) is an iconic traditional dish, the main attraction of restaurants in waterside touristic destinations, and a source of fierce rivalry between riverside cities. Roasted fish and fish soup are front and center on the Hungarian Christmas dinner table. If domestic fish farms want to keep these traditions alive, and expand their sector, they will have to innovate, become greener, more sustainable and more resilient – And it seems that new possibilities for development will soon be available.

Photo credit:
"Carp" by Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay
"Bogrács" by chalkahlom via Flickr
"Chub" by richardfalta1 via Pixabay