An association representing dozens of Armenian fish farms expressed serious concern on Wednesday about government plans for tighter regulation of their business.
Artur Atoyan, the head of the group, said the government intends to introduce licensing requirements for about 180 mostly small and medium-sized firms active in the sector. He claimed that the Ministry of Agriculture has drafted a bill that would require each of them to pay 15 million drams ($36,000) for a three-year license.
“I think that about 75 percent of small and medium businesses would not be able to pay up,” Atoyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Haykaz Zeynalian, a fish farm owner affiliated with the association, blamed his large competitors owned by wealthy businesspeople for the planned measures. He claimed that they are keen to monopolize a relatively new sector of the Armenian economy reportedly employing more than 10,000 people.
The Ministry of Agriculture confirmed that the government is planning to make changes in the regulatory environment for the fish farms but insisted that no final decisions have been made yet. Ani Smbatian, the ministry spokeswoman, denied the licensing fee cited by Atoyan.
In Smbatian’s words, the main aim of the planned changes is to ensure a more efficient use of scarce water in the fruit-growing Ararat Valley, where most of the fish farms are concentrated.
Local farmers increasingly complain that artesian aquifers feeding their fertile agricultural land are running dry because more and more groundwater is diverted to artificial ponds used by the fish industry. Reports in the Armenian press have accused fish farms of causing severe damage to some rural communities.