SUSTAINABLE FISHERIES FOR ENHANCED WATER RESOURCES IN ARMENIA (SFEWRA)
PARTNERSHIPS FOR ENHANCED ENGAGEMENT IN RESEARCH (PEER), Cycle 4
US partner: Stephen Schoenholtz, PhD, Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Virginia Tech University
Project Dates: October 2015 – September 2018
The main goal of the Sustainable Fisheries for Enhanced Water Resources in Armenia (SFEWRA) project is to introduce efficient and environmentally friendly fish farming practices in Ararat Valley fish farms to sustain fish production levels and to reduce negative water-related environmental impacts by the pisciculture industry in Armenia.
Ararat Valley, Armenia, fisheries are able to use high quality groundwater as their main source of water. A total of more than 1.6 billion m3 of groundwater was extracted from the aquifer in 2016, with approximately half being used for fish farming. Present fish farming methods do not take water-conserving techniques into consideration. This inefficient water use, typically found in low-intensity aquaculture systems in Ararat Valley, has become a key environmental issue in Armenia. Excessive groundwater exploitation in this geographic area has resulted in a 67% reduction in groundwater levels over the last 20 years. The negative environmental impacts are magnified by large volumes of wastewater discharge into receiving waters. In turn, this unsustainable use of groundwater in the Ararat Valley along with an increasingly strict policy on water use has had a devastating impact on small and/or medium scale aquaculture operations. Over the last two years approximately 100 fish farms have permanently ceased operations resulting in job losses.
Through a partnership with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) the International Center for Agribusiness Research and Education (ICARE) Foundation is involved in implementing the SFEWRA project under the USAID-funded PEER program. The primary objective of the SFEWRA project is to address issues related to depletion of groundwater resources in Ararat Valley, Armenia. Within the scope of this project the key objective of the ICARE research team is development of water-efficient production systems for 15 targeted small and medium-scale fisheries operating in the Ararat Valley.
In order to accomplish the project objectives the SFEWRA team has assessed current production models of 15 selected fisheries attempting to define and understand their environmental impacts. On each farm stocking densities, water exploitation volumes, and other relevant information was collected for qualitative analysis using the Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) model.
Apart from providing consultancy, SFEWRA team has been regularly conducting inlet and outlet water quality analysis from project fish farms. Overall, 24 physical, chemical and geologic parameters (e.g. oxygen saturation, levels of ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, heavy metals, etc.) for inflow and outflow waters have been periodically analyzed and recorded. The parameters will ultimately be incorporated into water-efficiency fish farming models for each targeted fishery in the form of closed or semi-closed aquaculture systems, integrated aquaculture-agriculture systems and/or aquaponics.
To bring the best aquaculture practices to Armenia, the SFEWRA team visited modern privately- and government-run aquaculture facilities around the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. Meetings were held with Virginia Tech faculty and staff members involved with fisheries and recirculating aquaculture systems. The team became acquainted with individual models for water-efficient reuse practices in fish farms. They discussed major challenges these small fish farms face and examined which models used would best fit fish farmers in Armenia. The team also became familiar with the water regulatory framework in the Commonwealth of Virginia which, in turn, can provide a firm basis to further elaborate more detailed and environmentally friendly regulations for groundwater exploitation in Armenian aquaculture.
For the next project years the SFEWRA team will be engaged in developing and introducing customized models, strategies and tools for achieving the desired sustainability for each targeted fish farm. After analyzing the current regulatory framework, the team will then produce recommendations for improving policy for water usage in fish farm production systems and for better management of waste waters. Throughout the process, they will engage key stakeholders to ensure their input is included in the study and to keep them informed of recommended policy changes and actions.