Population: 1.31 million
GDP: €28 billion
Overview of the Estonian fisheries and aquaculture sector
Estonia, facing the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, has a coastline of 3,700 km (excluding the islands, which number more than 1,500). Its diverse terrain includes rocky beaches, old-growth forest, and many lakes, the biggest being Lake Peipus. Tallinn is the main commercial port, whilst Pärnu is the most important fishing port.
Estonian fisheries are diverse, comprising different directions: deep sea and marine coastal fishery, inland fishery and aquaculture. The Estonian fisheries sector uses the resources of the Baltic Sea and inland waters; Estonia also has access to the fish resources of the Northwest Atlantic (NAFO), Northeast Atlantic (Spitsbergen and NEAFC), and Southwest Atlantic.
In 2015, the Estonian fishing fleet consisted 1,538 vessels and total capture by this fleet amounted to 70,800 tonnes. The distant water fleet today comprises 5 vessels, which target northern prawn (Pandalus borealis), Atlantic redfishes (Sebastes spp), skates, and Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides) in the Northwest Atlantic, Northeast Atlantic, and Svalbard.
Fishery in the Baltic Sea is divided into marine trawl fishery and small-scale fishery. Marine trawl fisheries tagret species are sprat, Baltic herring, and cod. There are about 35 vessels in the Baltic Sea fishery which employs about 500 fishers. Fishing quotas in the small-scale fishery forms about one third of the total Baltic Sea quotas and the gears commonly used are passive, comprising different kinds of trap and gill nets. The bulk of the catches comprises mostly sprat and herring, perch, salmont and flounder are caught as well. Sprat and herring are landed mainly at Estonian ports where the catch is sold to freezing or processing companies.
There are about 1,500 vessels in the coastal small-scale fishing fleet and the sector provides employment ca 2,500 fishers, however fishing is only a part-time occupation for most of them. Commercial fishery from inland waters is done in a considerable rate on Lake Peipus and Lake Võrtsjärv. Perch, bream, roach, pike, eel, and lamprey are the fish caught the most. Nets, traps, pound nets, and Danish seines are used as the main fishing gears.
During Soviet period (1944–1991) fish farming developed rapidly since the end of '60s and reached its peak in the end of the '80s with 1,743 tons of fish for consumption, which consisted mainly of common carp (917 tonnes) and large rainbow trout (734 tonnes).
Aquaculture production has decreased from the largest quantity of 1,743 tonnes produced in 1989 to 798 tonnes produced in 2015. Estonian aquaculture sector is still developing, however, production is still lower than it was in late 1980s. All aquaculture production in Estonia is derived from freshwater aquaculture. Aquaculture production is carried out mostly in ponds, in flow-through systems and in recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). The principal farmed species (around 70 %) is rainbow trout. Fishing tourism is based on trout as well. Common carp, sturgeon and eel are farmed in limited quantities. Aquaculture sector is constrained by the climatic conditions in the northern latitudes, with short periods of vegetation, sub-zero temperatures in winter, and cold water.
Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and European eel (Anguilla anguilla) are the two major cultured species. The proportion of reared freshwater Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser baerii) is increasing. For trout farmers, an important additional by-product is trout roe which is salted and sold as red caviar. Practically all the trout is sold in the domestic market. Most of the market size eel is exported. Rainbow trout, which is also farmed in fish tourism enterprises, is the most important by volume. Commercial farming of whitefish, pike-perch, perch, arctic char, and African catfish offers a completely new outlook. Several crayfish farms have been established in Estonia too. They intend to produce crayfish both for human consumption and for stocking into the nature to support the wild populations.
There are 32 commercial companies whose main activity is fish farming, and most have a multiple production profile. They rear several species simultaneously producing fish for consumption, offering fishing tourism in put-and-take ponds, and producing juveniles for the state restocking programme. There are over 50 put-and-take fishing ponds. Ornamental fish (koi carps) are gaining popularity, but the trade in these fish is still negligible. The sector employs about 100 people.
Processing and trade
Fish processing forms about 13 % of the Estonian food industry, but the relevance of fish products in the export of food products accounts for 28 %.There are about 83 companies in Estonia whose main business is the processing and canning of fish, crustaceans and molluscs. The main directions in Estonian fish processing are frozen fish; salted, spiced, dried, deep frozen, and coated fish; producing preserves and ready-to-eat foodstuff for the domestic and international markets. Frozen fish and canned products are aimed at the eastern market and to Central and Eastern European markets. Ready-to-eat products are marketed both to the eastern as well as western markets. A large share of the product range is also represented in the domestic market. Average sales revenue of the companies exceeds €150 million and most of them operate in Harju and Pärnu Counties.
A typical feature of the Estonian fish processing industry is a steady increase in the importance of larger, horizontally, and vertically integrated companies, with direct ownership of all production activities from fishing to fish processing and exporting, accompanied by the emergence of long-term contractual supplier-customer relationships between producing companies and processors or supermarket chains. Vertical integration is very common in the Baltic Sea trawl fisheries (sprat and Baltic herring) and in the Lake Peipsi fisheries (perch and pike-perch) in the sense that processing or fishing companies own the quotas, hire external fishers, process raw material and manage trade relations, including export. These vertically integrated companies export almost 100% of their production. In the Baltic marine fishery, the vertically integrated companies are organised in producer organisations.
Export amounts to about 82 % of total sales value and the important markets are Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, and Ukraine. The most important export in terms of value are frozen small pelagics (Baltic herring and sprat), and frozen northern prawn. Preserved small pelagics, smoked fish, salmon, and trout are also significant export commodities. The main import are fresh and chilled salmon and trout.
In 2015, Estonia exported fish and shellfish to more than 50 countries worth €169 million. During the same period, Estonia imported fish and aquatic vertebrates from more than 40 countries, for a value of €139 million.
Estonians annually consume 18 kg of fish per person in 2014 (live weight equivalent – kg/capita per year), what is almost 8 kg less than the EU average. Increase in fish consumption is mainly restricted by the high price of fishery products, and low purchasing power of the domestic market.
Useful Links for Estonia
- Aquaculture in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
- Statistics Estonia
- Ministry of Agriculture
- Fisheries Information Center
- Estonian Association of Fishery
- Estonian Fish Farmers Association
- Estonian Investment and Trade Agency
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