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Fisheries And Aquaculture In Kazakhstan: Introduction


The first in a number of articles gives an overview of fisheries and aquaculture in Kazakhstan, written by Timirkhanov, S., Chaikin, B., Makhambetova, Z., Thorpe, A. and van Anrooy, R. from the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Circular.

The inland capture fisheries and aquaculture sectors in the Republic of Kazakhstan have gone through a dramatic decline in production, which lasted until 2001 for capture fisheries and continues up till today for aquaculture production. While in 1989 some 89 000 tonnes of fish were produced within the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), the production in 2007 was around 43 000 tonnes. The upward trend in capture fisheries production is remarkable, as in 2001 production amounted to just 21 000 tonnes. Aquaculture production is almost insignificant, with production accounting for less than 400 tonnes of marketable fish in 2007. By comparison, at global level, aquaculture accounts for nearly 50 per cent of food fish production.

The Caspian Sea is a major source of fishery productions to the Kazakh people. Other main sources are a number of lakes (e.g. Balkash, Alakol, Tengiz) and reservoirs (e.g. Bukhtarma, Shardara, Bogen). The North Aral Sea has restarted to be a source of fisheries products in recent years. The main fisheries areas can be divided into basins: Ural-Caspian basin, Aral-Syr-Darya basin, Balkash-Alakol basin and Irtysh-Zaisan basin. Fish fauna is diverse, but was more diverse in the past. There are a number of species endangered, for example, various sturgeon species in the Ural-Caspian basin. Apart from commercial capture fisheries in reservoirs and lakes, recreational fisheries (particularly in the Lake Balkash region) is also important. The registered catches from recreational fisheries were higher than the official aquaculture production figures in 2006 and 2007.

The aquaculture sector was hit hardest by the collapse of the Soviet Union; virtually all its support infrastructure and facilitating services have disappeared in the last 15 years. While aquaculture production reached nearly 10 000 tonnes in 1994 (thus after independence), in recent years production has dropped to less than 1 000 tonnes. High-quality fish feeds, fingerlings, hatchery, culture equipment, and chemicals and drugs required in fish culture activities are not, or are barely produced, in Kazakhstan, and most of them have to be imported.

Illegal, unreported and unregistered (IUU) fishing continues to be a major problem in the fisheries sector in Kazakhstan; as a result, maybe only less than one-third of fish production is reported. In recent years, the contribution of the fisheries sector (including capture and culture) to GDP has been less than 0.8 Per cent. Imports of fishery products in 2006 were some 44 000 tonnes, while exports added up to 32 000 tonnes. There are five large processing enterprises that are European Union (EU) certified for exporting fish to Europe. The large majority of fish processing facilities in the country are however not certified by Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) or the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) at present.

The apparent per capita fish supply was 16.7 kg (live weight equivalent) at global level in 2006. In comparison, the current per capita consumption of fish of some 3 kg in Kazakhstan shows that fish and fishery products are only small contributors to the diet of the Kazakh people. The tradition of eating fish at least once a week, as was the practice under Soviet rule, does not exist anymore in Kazakhstan. In rural areas fish is generally consumed as a fresh product, as frozen and canned products are less available there. In urban areas many kinds of fish are available at the market; however, prices in urban areas are slightly higher than those in most rural areas, mostly because many urban centres (including the capital Astana) are located rather far away from the main reservoirs and lakes.

The employment provided by the sector may be over 17 000 jobs, but various state agencies and sector experts use different employment figures. In any case, the contribution of fisheries to employment is limited in Kazakhstan.

In recent years, the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan, with support from its Fisheries Committee, has made many improvements to the legal framework for the fisheries sector. It is however recognized that there are still many gaps in the policy and legal framework for the sector and that enforcement of rules and regulations needs more attention. The country still lacks a proper long-term fishery and aquaculture sector policy and a strategy which is carried out by all key stakeholders in the sector.

State programmes have been developed, but because of limited funding and limited involvement by the private sector these programmes have not reversed the downward trend in aquaculture production. Kazakhstan is however party to a number of international conventions and agreements that relate to fisheries resources, wetlands and the Caspian Sea environment. Implementation of these conventions and agreements is key to the sustainable development of the sector, something which is well-recognized by Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Fishery management plans, like those commonly used by other nations, do not exist as such in Kazakhstan. Although the country is lagging behind in terms of design and application of modern fishery management approaches, some fishery management tools such as total allowable catch (TAC) and quotas are applied in fishery management.

On paper, the human resources available at the Fisheries Committee, Kazakh Fisheries Scientific Research Institute, universities, fisheries organizations and fishery-sector related institutions cover all aspects that are needed for proper capture fisheries management and sustainable aquaculture development. But there is a limited inflow of young and competent experts in the sector at present; and as most experts were educated under the Soviet regime they have hardly received updates of their knowledge since. International collaboration (e.g. through the United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], FAO and the World Bank) with the Kazakh fisheries sector has increased in recent years, particularly on sturgeon issues and at regional level. The staff of the Fisheries Committee and the Kazakh Fisheries Scientific Research Institute have participated in many international and regional events and workshops. International collaboration has increased awareness and built capacity on a range of issues, although it should be noted that only a few staff of both institutions have benefited from the participation in international events.

Small- and medium-scale enterprises in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors in Kazakhstan generally do not have access to credit or microfinance services. Insurance of aquaculture production processes is not possible at present.

The sectoral diagnosis that was prepared by key fisheries and aquaculture sector stakeholders in 2008 shows that with a sector-wide approach, which is carried out by all key stakeholders, the sector would be able to grow considerably, making better use of the available conditions and reaping the opportunities offered.

This FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Circular aims to increase general understanding and awareness of the current status of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors in Kazakhstan. It provides, where data were available, a historical overview of the sector. The diagnosis may give entry points for public and private support to the sector, as well as provoke some guidance to international agencies in their assistance to the sector. The document presented in this Fisheries and Aquaculture Circular was cleared for publication by the Fisheries Committee of Kazakhstan in February 2009.


The capture fisheries and aquaculture sectors produced some 110 million tonnes of fish for human consumption in 2006. The accompanying apparent per capita supply of 16.7 kg (live weight equivalent) was the highest on record. Aquaculture accounted for 47 Per cent of the total fish supply worldwide in 2006 (FAO, 2009).

In contrast, per capita availability of fish in Kazakhstan was just around 3 kg in 2006 and the aquaculture share of total production was less than 1 Per cent. Inland capture fisheries and aquaculture sectors in Kazakhstan have been going through a dramatic decline in production, which started after independence in 1991 and lasted until 2001 for capture fisheries and continues until today for aquaculture production. Reasons for the decline are numerous and include, among others, poor water management, reduced state funding, fragmentation of authority over the sector, limited access to fish feeds, unsuitable pond systems, limited policy guidance, and incomplete and obsolete legal frameworks for the sector (Thorpe and van Anrooy, 2009).

Recognising the availability of water resources for capture fisheries, capture-based fisheries and aquaculture, the Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan has been trying to mediate the above situation by lifting constraints to sectoral development and providing guidance on management and development aspects. The limited contact between Kazakhstan and the western world in terms of fisheries in the first decade after independence however is still being felt. For many years, few experts were trained in fisheries or aquaculture subjects, and developments in other parts of the world (particularly in the field of aquaculture) were not followed suit in Kazakhstan. As employment opportunities decreased, experts who worked in the sector left. Reduced production by the sector meant less state attention, and financial support to the sector nearly dried up towards the end of the 1990s. In addition, the reduced attention to collection of data and information (statistics) on the sector made it difficult for policy-makers to identify the problems and opportunities and design and implement proper management systems for the sector. The increased contact between Kazakh fisheries experts and those of other countries around the Caspian Sea and the rest of the world has started a process of catching up on production and management aspects. There is however still a long way to go before the Kazakh fisheries sector can be regarded as sustainable and can apply modern standards and practices that are common in other parts of the world.

It should be noted that Kazakhstan is not an exception in terms of fisheries sector decline in Central Asia. All Central Asian republics have seen similar (or even worse) declines in the last 15 years, and all are only slowly recovering from the crisis the sector was in for years (Thorpe and van Anrooy, 2009). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations started to develop strategic partnerships in the Central Asian region towards joint to sustainable development and management of the capture fisheries and aquaculture sectors in 2007. This report on the fisheries sector in Kazakhstan was a first step in the ongoing process towards increasing the understanding of policy-makers on fisheries and aquaculture issues. The information presented can be regarded as a kind of baseline information on the current situation of fisheries and aquaculture in the country. The historical information provided will allow stakeholders in Kazakhstan and abroad to identify and support actions needed to rehabilitate the fisheries sector (in particular, the aquaculture sector) and bring it up to international standards.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.