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Fisheries and Aquaculture in Azerbaijan: A Review

15 April 2013

Fishing and the production of fish and fish products in Azerbaijan declined considerably in the early 1990s, with annual fish production falling from more than 20,000 tonnes in the early twentieth century to just 1,570 tonnes by the end of the century. Fish imports are relatively stable, while sturgeon and black caviar make up the majority of fish exports, states a report on Azerbaijan's fisheries and aquaculture industry from the FAO..

Compared with the global average consumption of fish and fish products, consumption of fish-derived products in Azerbaijan is low as a result of both high product prices determined by insufficient domestic production and the immaturity of the distribution network.


The Republic of Azerbaijan, which greatly exceeds the other republics of the Southern Caucasus in terms of size and population, has the lowest reserves of freshwater compared with the other countries in the region. One of the undoubted advantages of Azerbaijan is the length of its sea coastline – about 840 km.

The rich culture in fisheries and fish consumption in Azerbaijan is reflected in its large fishing fleet (which is geared towards sprat fishing), its being the first country to develop biological technology for the artificial culture of sturgeon, and the presence of the Kura River (which is the largest river in the Southern Caucasus and bisects the country, resulting in considerable resources of anadromous and semi-anadromous fish in the regional waters). After the collapse of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, and in the early years of independence, the fishing industry lost efficiency and there was a major decline in commercially valuable fish species both in the Caspian Sea and in inland waters. The total volume of the fisheries shrank to less than one-tenth of their size between 1990 and 2005, and a similar reduction was recorded in the same period for aquaculture production. The poor economic situation throughout the region and the impossibility of meeting the traditionally large demand for fish caused prices to rise and, as a result, reduced fish consumption to the critically low figure of 3.4 kg per capita.

A growth in investor interest in aquaculture has been observed in recent years. This has been due in part to the increased attention the State has given to this sector as a food-producing sector, especially because it is also part of the State Programme to Ensure Food Security. In addition, the high consumer prices for fish and the growth in the population’s purchasing power against a backdrop of high growth in the economy have encouraged greater interest in fisheries. However, the development of aquaculture is rather chaotic because it lacks a legal basis for its purposeful development.

The expected extension of the credentials of the state regulating authorities in fish breeding and fishery, the imposition of a moratorium on the catching of all sturgeon species in the Caspian Sea, and the incipient development of a draft “Law on Aquaculture” will provide great impetus to the development of the sector. According to experts, the expected measures, together with efficient collaboration with international experience in the framework of various programmes and FAO projects and other international organizations operating in this sphere, will make it possible to expand the output of aquaculture production in the coming few years. It is expected that such an expansion will not only stem from an increase in production volume caused by adopting more piscicultural practices, but also reflect the achieving of higher productivity from existing units and greater use of technology.

General Fish Production

Under the Azerbalyg State Concern, about 100 fishing vessels of various types and sizes operated in Azerbaijan; this situation did not change between the date of independence and the date of liquidation of the Azerbalyg State Concern in 2001.

After liquidation, the entire fisheries sector was privatized. Since then, about 100 fishing vessels have been operating in the Caspian Sea, of which about 60 are assigned to kilka fishing. The remaining vessels focus on freshwater fish species such as carp, perch and shad. Caspian fisheries use two main types of fishing techniques: kilka is caught with seine nets; and other species are mainly caught with trawl nets.

The early 1990s marked the beginning of a difficult period in Azerbaijan, as it experienced the first years of independence. These years were characterized by economic decline as well as a decline in aquaculture production (Tables 7 and 8).

Table 7: Total Freshwater and Marine Fish Production, 1991–2010

Source: State Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan (2011).

Table 8: Aquaculture Production (Processed Fish Volume Included), 1998–2010

Source: State Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan (2011).

As confirmed by the figures shown in Tables 7–9, catches from both captive fisheries and aquaculture are declining in volume and in value, and the import of fish from captive fisheries and aquaculture is increasing in terms of both volume and value.

Table 9: Caspian Sea and Inland Waters Catch, 2000–2010

Source: State Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan (2011).

Between 2003 and 2009, the export of fish fell to half of its previous levels in terms of quantity and by 3.5 times in monetary terms (Table 10). There was a volume increase in the import of canned products of 50 percent in this period – a monetary increase of more than double – and this is significant.

In the same period, the figures given indicate an increase in demand against a backdrop of increasing consumer prices, and this is not insignificant. Considering the changes in fish exports and fish products in the same context, it is possible to say that most of the financial value is derived from the export of sturgeonproduced black caviar. Using the information from Table 10, it is possible to conclude that although there was a 67 percent increase in export volume from 2003 to 2009, exports were characterized by more than a fourfold increase in this period. Therefore, fish exports were largely at the expense of species of little value. This is linked to the sudden decline in valuable commercial fish species in the Caspian Sea and in the inland basins as well.

Marine Capture Fisheries

Many of the physical – and chemical and biological – parameters of the Caspian Sea are part of its uniqueness. One of these parameters is the high productivity of the sea for valuable fish species such as sturgeon and herring. In the 1980s, more than 90 percent of the production of black sturgeon caviar and sturgeon meat came from the Caspian Sea. At the same time, various scientists declared the Caspian Sea as a protected area for sprats, which ensured that Caspian sprat resources remained strong and valuable.

Table 12 shows the fish production of capture fisheries both in the Caspian Sea and in inland waters. Two species of sprat account for 80 percent of the volume of caught species. In comparison with 1991, catches in the Caspian Sea had decreased by thirty-sevenfold in 2010. As one might expect, for such rich resources, an appropriately large fishing fleet and infrastructure was required. However, the decline in fish stocks since 1991 has made the maintaining of a large fishing fleet inefficient. After independence, there was a considerable reduction in the size of the fishing fleet and fishing infrastructure.

As mentioned above, almost 80 percent of fish caught come from two sprat species. The fishing fleet only continues to exist for sprat fishing. At present, information about the qualitative and quantitative composition of the fishing fleet is collected on the basis of information submitted by fishing companies or individuals when they receive their fishing quota.

Table 13 reflects the fishing fleet’s composition over three years. The vast majority of fishing boats are small boats of less than 6 m in length. They are used to catch Cyprinidae, which are caught 1.6–3.2 km off the coast. Boats of 24–30 m rank second in terms of the number of vessels. These vessels mainly catch sprat. It is important to note that all the fishing vessels belong to the private sector. Table 14 presents some detailed technical information on these vessels.

Table 15 offers some detailed information on the composition of catches. The data show the drastic decrease in the number of marine fish caught.

Depleted sprat resources have made traditional fish-catching techniques unprofitable. As Table 13 shows, the number of vessels with a length of 24–30 m has declined in recent years. The older vessels, the RS and PTS type, are those mainly involved in sprat fishing.

Inland Capture Fisheries


After Azerbaijan’s independence, the composition of the inland waters fleet changed only slightly. The current size of the fleet in inland waters is estimated at about 140 motorized vessels. Most of these vessels are relatively small, with limited engine power. However, about 46 fishing vessels on inland waters have an engine capacity of 80 bhp or more.

In addition to motorized fishing vessels, an estimated 20 rowing boats are used for fishing purposes. Together, all inland fishing vessels in Azerbaijan catch an estimated 330 tonnes per year, primarily using keep nets and fyke nets.

The Department for Reproduction and Protection of Aquatic Bioresources (DRPAB), part of the MENR, has seven vessels located in inland waters. Two of these are located on the Mingachevir and Shamkir reservoirs and are assigned to detect and stop illegal fishing activities and violations of the fishing regulations (Table 17). In addition to these, five fishing vessels are based on the lower part of the Kura River. These vessels have two functions: transporting spawners (mature fish ready to spawn) of several sturgeon species to hatcheries and transporting young sturgeon from these hatcheries to release sites close to the mouth of river in the Caspian Sea; and carrying out fish conservation activities.


Commercial fisheries on the rivers of Azerbaijan occur primarily in the Kura River. An essential proportion of the catches in the Kura River is of migrating sturgeon. In addition to sturgeon, roach (Rutiles rutiles), bream (Abramis brama) and pike-perch (Sander lucioperca) make up the majority of the catches (Table 18). Non-commercial fishing occurs in almost all other rivers, but these rivers are too small to sustain commercial fisheries. Fishing in these rivers serves a recreational purpose, and the fish caught are often used as food in local villages.

Reservoirs and Lakes

The large reservoirs – Mingachevir and Shamkir – have favourable hydrobiological conditions for commercial fisheries. Fish catches from these reservoirs include bream (Abramis brama), pike-perch (Sander lucioperca), roach (Rutiles rutiles) and common carp (Cyrpinus carpio).

Although the smaller reservoirs also sustain fish populations, they are too small for commercial fisheries. Fishing activities in these reservoirs serve a recreational purpose and the fish caught are often used as food in local villages. The only lake that supports commercial fishing is Lake Sarysu. Annual catches from this lake are low (Table 20), making it of little significance to national fisheries production. The main species caught in this lake are pike (Esox lucius), roach (Rutiles rutiles) and common carp (Cyrpinus carpio).

All the waters of Azerbaijan are state property. While the appropriate legal basis and mechanisms for renting this form of property are being established, state control through ownership can be effective in managing the water resources.

Current Production of Inland Capture Fisheries

Inland commercial fishery activities in Azerbaijan are concentrated on four waterbodies: the Kura River, Lake Sarysu, and the Mingachevir and Shamkir reservoirs. Although there are many more rivers, lakes and reservoirs in Azerbaijan, commercial fisheries focus on just these four bodies of water. Catch statistics from these inland capture fisheries are presented in Table 21.

Aquaculture and Restocking

After the liquidation of the Azerbalyg State Concern in 2001 (described above), the aquaculture sector was divided into two parts: aquaculture activities for commercial fish farming; and aquaculture activities for the purposes of restocking commercial fishing areas. Aquaculture activities for stocking waters that sustain commercial fisheries remained state controlled, while aquaculture activities in commercial fish farms became part of the private sector.

With the transition of the farms to the private sector, many of them have lost their value and some are functioning far below their capacity. The reasons include outdated equipment, fixed assets and a lack of investment in the sector. However, at the same time, small-scale farms and one-household farms have started to develop. These farms are mainly concentrated in lowland areas along the Kura River, covering the middle and downstream part of the river. The species mainly cultured on these farms are European carp, silver carp and grass carp. Silver carp and grass carp were first introduced to Azerbaijan in 1960. The farming of grass carp serves two purposes: as a food source, and as a natural control on aquatic vegetation in the inland waters of Azerbaijan. Some of these farms have been converted into hatcheries while others operate as standard fish farms. Despite this diversification into several farm types, the commercial aquaculture sector in Azerbaijan still has low productivity. Since 2002, production has increased, but total production in 2008 was still a marginal 1 000 tonnes (see Table 22).

Table 22: Aquaculture Production in Azerbaijan, 2002–2008

Source: Department for Reproduction and Protection of Aquatic Bioresources of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources (unpublished data).

In addition to commercial aquaculture, aquaculture for the purpose of restocking exists in Azerbaijan. With the restocking of juvenile fish, natural stocks are strengthened and capture fisheries sustained. At the moment, 13 hatcheries produce juvenile sturgeon, Kura salmon and cyprinids, which are released in reservoirs, the Kura River and the Caspian Sea (Table 23). The majority of these hatcheries were constructed under the then Soviet regime. The modern Khilly Sturgeon Hatchery was constructed in 2003 (Plate 1). This hatchery was constructed with a concession loan of US$6 million (including three years of operating costs) from the World Bank as part of the Urgent Environmental Investment Project. This hatchery is equipped with modern equipment, and the production capacity of the hatchery is estimated at 15 million young sturgeon per year. The modern equipment at the Khilly Sturgeon Hatchery can also be used to extract eggs from live fish. In this way, female fish can be kept for longer periods and be reused for egg extraction (Plate 2).

Fish Trade

Azerbaijan exports several kinds of processed fish and fish products, including sturgeon caviar, fish meal and various forms of processed sprat (Clupeonella cultriventris), in canned, frozen and smoked form. Sturgeon products are mainly exported to Canada, Germany and the United States of America, while kilka products are mainly exported to Georgia and the Russian Federation. Imported fish and fish products come mainly from the Baltic States, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation. Table 26 provides an overview of import and export data (value and volume) from 2003 to 2009.

On average, 100 tonnes of live fish is traded annually within Azerbaijan. The most common species in the live fish trade are common carp, silver carp, big head carp and grass carp. Live fish is usually traded on public markets in both rural and urban areas for a price that averages around US$7/kg (Table 27).

The whole production chain from either capture fishery or aquaculture farm to processed product is monitored by veterinary surgeons, public health agencies and other services in such a way that quality guarantees can be given on all fish and fish products.

Fish Demand and Consumption

In recent years, average annual fish consumption in Azerbaijan has been less than 1 kg per capita. This is far below the global average for per capita fish consumption, which was about 17 kg in 2010 (FAO, 2010). In Azerbaijan, most fish is consumed in the cooler months of the year in restaurants during holidays and celebrations. During the summer season, fish consumption is at its lowest point. Fish is mainly eaten fried, boiled, salted or smoked. During Novruz Bayram (the lunar New Year celebration), a traditional meal of kutum (Rutilus frisii), stuffed with nuts, raisins and spices and served with rice, is prepared.

In the coastal regions of the Caspian and in the regions adjacent to the main inland waters, fish and fish products represent a large part of the population’s diet. The situation is not the same for the rest of the country. However, unofficial observations in the past three years have shown a change in the dietary priorities of the inland population, as these regions have begun to consume more fish and fish products.

The preference for species is mostly based on market supply and availability during the year. About 15 percent of the supply of fish or fish products in Azerbaijan is imported and includes species such as Russian Far East pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) and sockeye salmon (O. nerka), mackerel (Scomber scombrus), cod (Gadus morhua) and sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax). Although the diversity of fish species in major urban centres and inland markets is dependent on availability at wholesale markets, the cities and villages located on the Caspian coast and in close proximity to large inland waters have a wider range of fish to choose from.

Fish consumption is very low in Azerbaijan and, although the demand for fish is much higher than current consumption, limited supply and high prices prevent an increase in consumption. The species (silver carp and grass carp) produced from the few commercial aquaculture farms are in such demand that there is too little production to supply markets and supermarkets; only restaurants receive farmed fish. More species, such as trout, snakehead and pike-perch, are highly valued in Azerbaijan, and aquaculture production of these species would result in good market prospects. However, without laws and development strategies, the aquaculture sector in Azerbaijan is struggling to develop.

Sectoral Diagnosis

Chapter 3 describes the status of fisheries and aquaculture in Azerbaijan without giving a detailed analysis of the situation. There are a number of constraints to overcome and issues to address if the fisheries sector is to develop in an environmentally and socio-economically responsible and sustainable manner.

Various methods can be used to diagnose the current situation. One of the most widely used methods to analyse a situation, create understanding and assist future decision-making processes in a simple manner is the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis. This method has the advantage that it addresses both internal and external factors that support or constrain development. The analysis of the internal and external sectoral environment provides useful information for the preparation of a strategic plan for the development of the fisheries and aquaculture sector in Azerbaijan. The following SWOT analysis assesses the current situation in terms of its natural, human, financial and educational resources.


  • The part of the Caspian Sea coastal zone under the authority of Azerbaijan is a productive area of the sea.
  • Devechi Port and Qizilagac Gulf are of great importance for many commercial fish species.
  • The Kura River, which has maintained its value in terms of being a freshwater source, provides a habitat for many fish species, as well as a preserved natural spawning area for sturgeon.
  • The availability of inland fish producing ponds, fish hatcheries for artificial breeding (of sturgeon, salmonids and cyprinids) and the scientific capacity available in fisheries.
  • Capture fisheries is the basis for the development of many coastal areas of the country and includes a wide range of activities, ranging from assessing the resources to trading of fish and fisheries products in the domestic and export markets.
  • The fisheries sector encompasses more than 60 enterprises of different forms of ownership.
  • In the national economy, the fisheries sector plays an important role as a supplier of food, fodder (fish flour and oil, fish fodder for livestock, agar-agar, various biological active substances, etc.) and technical products.
  • Fisheries companies are important in terms of generating employment for the population, particularly in many coastal areas where fishing is the main source of livelihood for people.


  • The destruction and disintegration of the previously functioning fisheries management system, consisting of a single authority, and at the same time, the relatively slow emergence of a new management and organizational structure in the fisheries sector.
  • The distribution of responsibilities with regard to fisheries sector management and development functions causes the sector to be largely ignored by the institutions involved.
  • The lack of a legal and policy framework for aquaculture development and management in the country.
  • The general lack of an integrated approach in fisheries management.
  • The sharp decline in stocks of aquatic bioresources, particularly valuable species (primarily sturgeon) in the Caspian Sea but also inland waterbodies of Azerbaijan, which has outstripped efforts by the Government to conserve and rehabilitate the aquatic bioresources.
  • A significant discrepancy between the stocks of individual species of aquatic biological resources and fishing fleet capacity – the latter being too large for many fish species – which causes a structural imbalance in the sectoral struggle for sustainability.
  • The lack of an effective system of market regulations for fish and fisheries products, which enables economically non-viable enterprises to be established and to survive.
  • The weakening role of the Azerbaijan fisheries industry at the international level, as it is not able to cope with the increasing competition in the world market for fisheries products.
  • The generally old, outdated and badly maintained fisheries infrastructure (a consequence of the lack of funds after independence) shows slow progress in terms of financing of modernization and renovation activities.
  • Export orientation on raw, unprocessed or limited processed fish and fishery products. The value addition takes place abroad.
  • The efforts to develop freshwater aquaculture and marine aquaculture do not match the available potential of the country.
  • The weakening control over the quality of fish in all stages of the supply chain causes health risks. Fish safety and quality concerns are valid.


  • Continuation of restoring the Kura River Delta to improve the migratory routes of spawning fish towards the upstream parts of the river.
  • Restoring the natural spawning areas of sturgeon, including rehabilitation and reclamation of spawning areas in the Araz and Kura Rivers, to improve conditions for natural reproduction of sturgeon.
  • Increasing participation in international, regional research programmes and activities to improve the ecological conditions of sensitive species of fish in the Caspian Sea with the participation of the United Nations Environment Programme, United Nations Development Programme, FAO, Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States, GEF, World Bank and the Caspian Environmental Programme. Participation is important particularly in research projects that include fish habitat, monitoring of marine pollution, ecotoxicological status of fish, behaviour of invasive species, as well as the development and implementation of the principles of sustainable fisheries management.
  • Coordinating activities for the conservation of stocks of fish species and to support the biodiversity of the Caspian basin within the Commission on Aquatic Bioresources of the Caspian Sea, as well as with other international organizations and conventions.
  • Harmonization of stock assessment methodologies used and identification of fish stocks and the total allowable catch of aquatic bioresources (including sturgeon).
  • Development of a uniform methodology for assessing stocks of sturgeon, kilka and other commercial fish species.
  • Implementation of the action plan of the regional programme of the Caspian littoral States on joint management, conservation and sustainable use of marine biological resources (developed by the Commission on Aquatic Bioresources of the Caspian Sea).
  • Reconstruction and rehabilitation of outdated and technically obsolete fishing enterprises for artificial breeding (hatcheries) and improvement of the biotechnical knowledge for artificial reproduction of sturgeon and Caspian salmon in support of the restocking programmes.
  • Creating specially protected natural areas at spawning sites of the Araz and Kura Rivers and the Yalama-Nabran coast area to increase natural feed supply for young sturgeon.
  • Improving schemes and methods used for spawner harvesting and applying reuse methodologies of spawners to reduce pressure on marine stocks.
  • Increasing public awareness on the state of sturgeon stocks and the fisheries sector activities in general through making use of specialized non-governmental organizations, the local media, and creating brochure and information materials on “the life of sturgeon” for secondary schools.
  • Strengthening the educational and training capacity in the fisheries sector by establishing a training institute for the sector.


  • Pollution by industrial (oil, chemicals and household waste) and agricultural waste (fertilizer runoff) of water resources (sea, rivers, reservoirs) used by the fisheries sector.
  • Spread of invasive species. Currently, it is the jellyfish (ctenophore) species Mnemiopsis.
  • Increasing IUU fishing practices. The unreported catch of sturgeon, salmon and other valuable commercial fish species is devastating fish stocks, undermining fisheries management, and seriously endangering future prospects for fishing activities and other uses of aquatic bioresources.
  • An increasing human influence on sensitive water areas that provide habitats for aquatic bioresources (including marine, river and inland water areas).
  • The possible negative impact of climate change and hydrological factors (fluctuation in sea level, temperature, clarity, eutrophication, etc.) on aquatic life.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

April 2013

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