2022 state budget, support for fishing and seafood sector 

Remarks by Prime Minister Edi Rama at meeting with fish and seafood worker in Durres on the 2022 state budget support for the fisheries sector:

 

Hello everyone! I am very glad we have come together here today, as fishing is one of the sectors where a lot has to be said, a lot remains to be done, and a lot to be told and shared, but as the saying goes “the more you have and the more you want to have,” it is important for everyone not to forget where we started from in order to clearly know where we are eyeing to go.

When we initially came here to attend one of the meetings we had throughout this period, when the relationship between the government and the sector managers and the entire fishing community has been key to understanding what the sharpest problems facing this sector are and to find solutions to them? What are the most issues facing the sector at this time. I recall that a large number of fishermen and fishing sector entrepreneurs attended that meeting and you were all concerned about survival of this sector, its struggle for survival amid total neglect in the conditions of a total desertion by the state in an open sea, with you all having to sail towards in Italy in order to secure oil for your boats and with madness being justified by the oil smuggling charges against you. Do you remember it?

You used to stand accused by the government as oil smugglers and you were randomly raided as if you were really smugglers and instead of going about your business you used to face checks as suspected smugglers.

Oil price for fishermen here in Albania was like refilling your boats with golden coins.

Second, what such a situation reflected?

You had just two export destinations, Italy and Greece only, and you could provide some meagre supply to the domestic market too. Your fish and seafood destinations today are Italy, Greece, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Croatia, Estonia, Denmark, Romania, Germany, the Netherlands, and Hong Kong, as well as the countries in the region, Kosovo, Serbia, North Macedonia and Montenegro. You are now involved in a process to gain access to the elite, most difficult and richest fish market, Japan. You know quite well that exporting seafood products to Japan would imply the highest standards. In the meantime, you are now a factor in the continent’s most competitive and richest market, namely Northern Europe and the Nordic countries. You are now present in all Nordic countries.

On the other hand, we expect that 32 or more entities will be licensed to launch their operations in the fishing sector this year alone. As many as 720 formalized entities and companies operate in this sector with incredible potential and if we are to look at the official data, the country’s fish and seafood exports have grown by 239%.

Since I am here today, I would like to tell those who see Albania via portals and social media networks that the minimum salary of fish and seafood sector workers is 800,000 lek. Is there anyone here who doesn’t need fish workers?

This sector needs an ever increasing number of workers, because it is an economy constantly growing and will keep growing in the future. Where to find workers and pay them a minimum salary of 800,000 lek? In Turkey and Egypt. Many people come from Turkey and Egypt to work here in Albania, whereas some “Kristal” university graduates, who claim to be lawyers, keep complaining that they are not offered job opportunities for them to take up. I would invite them to knock on the fish industry doors and jobs are available to them if they really wish to work.

Having said all that, we can now undoubtedly afford a much bigger ambition and for this ambition to be fulfilled we should promptly address a number of issues that would empower you all.

The government has projected significant financial support to strengthen the fishing fleet, cover your boat maintenance and repair costs and we plan to provide direct financial assistance for operators in the country’s fisheries sector. A state budget fund will be allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture to support investment projects in the fishing sector.

The government will provide direct financial assistance to cover a part of the boat repair cost for any fishing operator.

In the meantime, since you face a problem that everyone has been facing, but which is somehow more sensitive in this sector, namely the bank loans, it is the Minister’s duty to solve this issue.

The sovereign guarantee fund the government has made available to support the country’s agriculture and fishing industry should be set in motion as soon as possible, which means that operators in the fishing industry and agriculture can easily obtain bank loans under the sovereign guarantee fund. The guarantee fund should also make sure that the fishing industry operators are not forced to offer up an asset as collateral to qualify for a bank loan. The Ministry of Agriculture should provide grants to these operators after being assured that the operators themselves will cover the rest of investment and operational costs. Loans should be extended to them under the government’s sovereign guarantee fund. This is the duty you are tasked with and you should demonstrate that you deserve the post of the Deputy Agriculture Minister by providing facts, starting next year, on the loans granted to fishing operators under the sovereign guarantee fund and the number of boats repaired under the new mechanism we are already building.

This program will be implemented not only next year. We will make available significant funds throughout this term in office in the next four years and the government support will keep increasing to further strengthen and expand this fishing fleet, because if time has come for our fishermen, our fishing companies to involve in distant-water fishing activities and sail as far away as Senegal and Ghana, they need more powerful engines. They won’t be able to head there and fight against the sharks in the powerful developed countries if equipped with small boats and small engines that need oxygen. We are the ones who should provide them this oxygen.

I would like to assure you all of the government’s commitment to finance the fishing fleet in the next four years, so that this fishing fleet is elevated to a whole new level and so that any of you can increase your capacities, and I mean not only the big operators only.

Whoever wants to work and fish and whoever is ready to sacrifice in this business, one of the most difficult ones, enjoys all the respect and should and will enjoy all our support.

Me poshte vijon pjesa e dyte e fjales se KM Rama ne prezantimin e buxhetit per peshkimin:

A fish market should also be built as soon as possible and I no longer want to hear excuses about this project as it has been the case over the past eight years. The fish market has been built in Shengjin. The fish market has been built in Vlora. But a new one should also be built here in Durres. This is the essence of the whole story. A model fish market should be built here by taking advantage of the huge project designed to transform Durres port and the fish market should become accessible to every citizen. A long venue and huge retail space should be built, and the fish market should also house fish restaurants, bars and every other service unit, so that the market meets the highest standards in the Western Balkans. This is your task and the project should be developed in collaboration with fishermen, fish and seafood companies, with everyone participating as a shareholder and the Ministry of Agriculture will support the project.

The government and the fish sector operators will collaborate and ensure funding, with the government providing the largest share and operators will contribute modestly and the rest of the investment will be implemented through the sovereign guarantee fund and the joint-stock company you will jointly establish will then repay the loan over the years. This company will also run the fish market, because the state cannot assume your role. You need to establish an independent authority by employing the best possible local and international experts, and appoint a chief executive officer with international experience in fish markets management. We should no longer postpone the fish market project. I expect you to invite me to the groundbreaking ceremony for the fish market next year. You should absolutely deliver on this within a year.

A fishing school is absolutely a must, because the more this market grows, the more professional fishermen and skilled specialists will be needed to meet the market needs. We should definitely build and open a vocational fishing school, which will serve the fishing industry and this school will combine education and practice to train young people in the fisheries sector and create new jobs. If the vocational education concept includes three days school learning and two days training through work that would be really ideal in the case of such school, namely two day on board and three days in the classroom to create a new generation of the Albanian captains and fishing specialists. We need to launch work on this project too, precisely determine the site where the new fishing school will be built and kick off the construction work immediately. The vocational fishing school can be built right here and the project can be included in the major Durres port investment project to create an attractive environment for students to be connected with the port and the fishing companies operating here. They can then take up job positions at these companies as soon as they graduate and this way we prepare to meet the challenge, because I already noted that the fish and seafood exports have grown by 240% and we expect this sector to significantly grow in the coming years.

The growth potential is right here. Our ambition is that the fishing sector grows further and our efforts to do that shouldn’t stop here. We are seeking to double this sector’s growth. How to deliver on this ambition? We can do it by providing maximum support to all companies operating in the fishing sector and providing you with all the mechanisms, starting with new boats in order to strengthen the fishing fleet. But the process should not limit to the logistics only, but it should also incorporate the know-how and the tremendous experience amassed by many of you, who belong to a golden fishing age, should not end once you retire but instead it should be transferred to the younger generations. Likewise, the know-how you have gained through the contacts you have already established with your colleagues and companies throughout the world will be taught at this school so that a new generation of professional fishermen and skilled specialists is created to run and steer your boats, as they won’t take your businesses away, but they will definitely replace the current Turkish captains, because it can no longer be the case with the technical leading structures of our fishing fleets be headed by Turks, Egyptians and other international professionals. Why? Moreover, the captain’s salaries are higher than the ministers’ salaries. For what reason should we accept this? So, we will work together on the vocational fishing school project too and the foundations of that school will be laid within next year.

I don’t want to take more of your time to go over other issues, but I would briefly highlight two or three aspects concerning processing of fish and seafood products. All I commented had to do with the logistics, the infrastructure and the vocational education. However, an amount of 41 million euros has been earmarked for disbursement under the EU funds, after we have succeeded in the efforts to include the fishing sector too, because involvement of the foreign fishing sector was originally a serious problem. You all know the reasons, but you are a huge competitive potential and this is a matter of influences and interests and given that the fishing and processing industry and has been taken to a whole new level we succeeded in the efforts to include this sector in the support schemes that support agriculture exports mainly, where the basis have yet to be established, but we are not talking about the basis creation, but about a completely different level and the minister has succeeded in securing an amount of 41 million euros due to be made available to you in the coming years, starting in 2022. What does this mean? This means that you should do all the efforts and be ready to attract funds by presenting various investment projects to boost processing capacities, packing capacities and commercial capacities that meet the European Union standards, which you have already done as Albanian fish and seafood products have gained access to the most sterile markets in Northern Europe in terms of hygiene standards. But it is you who should deliver on all these and I think – this is just a suggestion – you need to join your forces and create an experts team that would help and assist the companies operating in this sector to design projects and properly worded posters as the EU experts require them so that not a single euro is wasted, I mean that you fail to absorb the funds due to the lack of capacities, but instead absorb as soon as possible. It depends totally on us how quickly we can absorb these funds already available and which can be frozen for ten more years if Albania fails to present the right projects that meet the required standards.

We will soon kick off construction of Vlora fishing port, which is designed to fully meet the EU hygiene and sanitary standards and logistics. You know that this port has its own deficiencies, but it was an accomplished fact. All we can do here are some minor adjustments, because the project was poorly designed, as you all know, and I feel sorry about the fishermen in Durres, since I am also a lawmaker representing this constituency, but the fishing port in Vlora is designed to be a much better one than this. I am really sorry.

That’s somehow all I had to say.

I thank you all for everything!

I would also like to express my respect for what you do as the most significant embodiment of the fact of what can be done by pursuing passion, readiness and persistence and how to transit from a dramatic situation of backwardness in terms of opportunities to a whole different level. I can tell you that I have had the chance to meet some our international partners, who come here thanks to the cooperation they have established with you and I feel proud and immensely happy to hear them talking and expressing their thoughts and opinions about you and the whole infrastructure you have already built and expressing their optimism about what can be done here. Our common challenge is not only to maximally harvest our seas, but also become a competitive factor in the international fishing industry. To this end, the government will do whatever it takes, I personally and the Minister of Agriculture will do utmost efforts.

Thank you very much everyone!

I very much hope we will launch the major Durres port project in the next few weeks, as well as the project on the fish market along a venue or a waterfront promenade, which will connect the city and your port and help this whole area to transform into a hub of a chain of services for fish and seafood products. It is our objective to start construction of the fish market and the vocational fishing school within next year. Thank you!