Population: 1.93 million (2018, Eurostat)
GDP: €26.9 billion
GDP/capita: €13 900 (2018, Eurostat)
Overview of the Latvian fisheries and aquaculture sector
Situated in north-east Europe, on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, the Republic of Latvia has a coastline of 4 984 km, which is 0.7% of the EU’s 66,000 km coastline. Inland waters cover 2 419 km², or 3.7% of Latvia’s territory. Riga, Ventspils, and Liepaja are the largest ports in Latvia. Fishing vessels also use smaller ports like Skulte, Mersrags, Salacgriva, Pavilosta, Roja, and Engure.
Latvia’s fishing sector is steeped in longstanding traditions and history, and it consists of the coastal fishing fleet, Baltic Sea (including the Gulf of Riga) offshore fleet, and the high-seas fleet,
The coastal fishing fleet
It is represented by 609 fishing boats with overall length equal to or less than 12 m. This category constitutes 90.2% of the total number of fishing vessels. Many of these boats are used by small commercial fishing enterprises for sales or for self-consumption. This sector plays an important role in the socio-economic environment of small coastal villages, as fishing is the major source of subsistence and employment in these areas. Although this is the largest fleet by numbers, the overall contribution to the Latvian total catch is small, approximately 3%. The catches include Baltic herring, round goby, flounder, and smelt.
Baltic Sea (including the Gulf of Riga) offshore fleet
This sector is made up by 55 fishing vessels, which make up 8.2% of the total fishing fleet. Their lengths are between 12 and 40 m. These vessels only operate in the Baltic Sea (including the Gulf of Riga) offshore waters (ICES subdivisions 22 -32). The main gears used in this segment are midwater and bottom otter trawls. This fleet is responsible for 54.2% of the total Latvian catch, and focuses on sprat, herring and cod.
This segment is represented by 11 vessels (1.6% of the total fishing fleet) but contributes with 42.8% of the total Latvian catch. These vessels fish in waters governed by the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) and the Fishery Committee for the Eastern Central Atlantic (CECAF) using mainly midwater and bottom otter trawls. Target species in the NEAFC area is redfish and in the CECAF area mackerel, horse mackerel, sardinella and sardine.
Inland fishing catches amounted to 243 tonnes in 2016. This type of fishing has decreased significantly over the last few years, due to a change related to prohibitions on fishing activities with traps and nets in numerous lakes and rivers in favour of recreational fisheries and angling. However, inland fisheries have never been important in Latvia and reached a maximum of 612 tonnes in the year 2000. This type of fishing is limited by the number of fishing gears allowed for use in freshwater bodies. In places where fishing is allowed, fishing opportunities have been regularly strengthened by the implementation of restocking plans.
Around 20 fish species are caught in inland waters, of which river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis), freshwater bream (Abramis brama), tench (Tinca tinca), and pike (Esox lucius) are the most common. Angling is a strong competitor to inland fisheries and is mostly linked with the development of ecotourism in Latvia.
Land resources and the availability of inland waters provide Latvia with the perfect conditions to develop aquaculture. Aquaculture is a significant part of the fisheries industry, but is comparatively new and, until recently, used mostly extensive production methods. Currently, aquaculture is linked only with the freshwater ecosystem and there are no aquaculture farms in coastal areas, though recently an interest in marine aquaculture has grown.
Aquaculture farms registered by the Food and Veterinary Service numbered 156 in 2017. Five of them are state farms, whose main activity is fish reproduction in natural water bodies, to compensate for the damage to fish resources caused by the construction of hydropower plants on rivers, pollution of water, and the degradation of natural habitats. The rest are private farms, including fish ponds for angling. Aquaculture establishments are sited in areas which are not necessarily directly related to the availability of freshwater, but rather reflect the traditions and socio-economic interests of landowners.
Over recent years ponds have decreased in number, while their size has increased. Another trend is the spread of recirculating systems.
In 2017, the aquaculture sector produced 808 tonnes, with a market value of €2.2million. The main species produced is by far carp, followed by trout, catfish, and sturgeon. Carp contributed 76% of all aquaculture production.
Processing and trade
The fish processing industry in Latvia is a well-developed and locally significant sector located along the country’s coastline. Historically, Latvian fish processing companies produced both for the domestic and the export markets. In 2016, there were 115 processing companies employing 3 741 people. This was an increase in companies from 2015, but there was a decrease in employees. The production value was €148.8 million.
There are different types of fisheries products made in Latvia such as frozen, salted, and smoked products, preserves, ready to serve products, and sterilized canned fish. Canned fish producers mainly use raw materials from the Baltic Sea. However, to extend the range of products, fish processors also use marine fish such as Atlantic herring, mackerel, sardine, and sardinella. Freshwater fish species, such as pike, catfish, and common carp, are used in small quantities.
The fisheries sector maintains a positive trade balance, with exports consistently exceeding imports. In 2017, the value of exports was €199 million, €44 million more than imports.
The majority of exports (81%) are traded within the EU market. Denmark, Lithuania and Estonia are the main destinations for exports. Prepared and/or preserved fish products represent one third of all exports to the EU. Among extra-EU countries, Norway, Ukraine, USA and Israel make up 63% of all exported products, prepared and/or preserved fish being the most exported commodity. Together with frozen fish, they contribute 98% of all fish and seafood products exported to non-EU countries.
In 2017, Latvia imported fish products with a value of €155 million. To supply the fish processing sector with the necessary quantity of raw materials, as well as to expand the assortment of fish products on the domestic market. The majority (81%) of imports come from EU countries: Lithuania, Denmark and Sweden. Fresh/live products from the EU make up the majority share of products imported. For extra-EU trade, Norway Is the leading source of imports with over 50% of the total value. Frozen fish products constitute approximately 39% of the imported products. The main import species are salmon and cod.
In 2015, per capita consumption was 26.3 kg per person, an increase compared with 2014. It is above the average EU consumption level (25.1 kg per person). The main species consumed were herring, sprat, cod, salmon and flounder.
Pollock, salmon, cod, and trout are gaining popularity in the market, indicating a structural change in consumption. Fish has traditionally been an important part of daily diets in Latvia. There is still a preference for wild compared with farmed fish products. Latvians are choosing fish products with a greater focus on origin, showing a greater affinity for products produced locally and nationally. Product appearance is another important factor when purchasing.
According to the EMFF Operational Programme (2014-2020), the main challenges for Latvian fisheries are improving the port infrastructure as well as the quality, control, and traceability of products landed. There is also a need to invest in selective and smart fishing gears.
In the aquaculture sector, the main aim is increasing production in recirculation systems with the EMFF’s support. The EMFF will support investments in new or improved processes, technology, management systems, and marketing measures for fisheries and aquaculture products.
Useful Links for Latvia
- Ministry of Agriculture
- BIOR Institute - Institute of Food Safety, Animal Health and Environment
- Association Rigas Sprotes
- Union of Latvian Fish Processing Industry
- National Fisheries Network
- The Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia (CSB)
- Baltic News Network
- The Latvian Institute