Fisheries and aquaculture in Montenegro

by Thomas Jensen
fisherman with trout

EU accession should boost value

This article was featured in Eurofish Magazine 2 2024.

Fishing in Montenegro has a long tradition and is practiced in fishing areas on the coast, on Lake Skadar, and in other inland waters. For Montenegro, as a small Mediterranean country with about 300 km of coastline, fishing, apart from its economic value, has a strong social and cultural dimension, including its impact on the landscape of coastal and inland waters.

The fisheries and aquaculture sector in Montenegro covers a number of activities. It includes commercial fishing in the sea and on Lake Skadar, sport and recreational fishing in the sea and in fresh water, freshwater aquaculture and mariculture, fish processing, and trade in fishery and aquaculture products. Fishing, together with agriculture and forestry, contributes 6.5% to Montenegro’s GDP. Although the contribution of fisheries and aquaculture to GDP is small, the sector has the potential to increase this by adding value to primary production through processing.

Fishing is more than an occupation

Montenegrin fisheries must be viewed in the broader context that fisheries have in the countries of the Mediterranean and the Adriatic Sea. Here, fishing is not only an economic activity, but has a distinct social component and represents a way of life for the local population. At the same time, there is an exceptional intertwining of fishing with other branches of the economy such as local agriculture (primarily viticulture, olive cultivation, animal husbandry) and tourism. The biodiversity of species, the existence of rivers and lakes of exceptional fishing potential, as well as the Adriatic Sea itself—a source of water for aquaculture facilities, and vital for commercial as well as for sport and recreational fishing—all hint at the potential to improve the fisheries of Montenegro.

VMS mandatory for vessels longer than 10 m

The Montenegrin fishing fleet is characterised by old, small vessels. The average age of all vessels in the fleet is about 32 years, while the average length is just over 7 m. A small number of vessels has cooling chambers or refrigerators on board, mainly vessels fishing with trawls and large seine nets. All vessels over 10 meters in length are required by national legislation to have a VMS (Vessel Monitoring System). In Montenegro, 10% of vessels have installed VMS, while AIS (devices for automatic identification) have been installed in around 8% of vessels. This significantly increases the safety of navigation and of the fishers. The total capacity of the fishing fleet of Montenegro, as well as the total number of fishing vessels, has shown a slight increase from year to year. There are currently 338 vessels in the fleet, of which 24 are trawlers, 27 purse seiners, 56 longliners, and the rest are vessels that use gill nets.

Montenegro still does not have a single dedicated fishing port. Fishermen moor their vessels in city marinas and in existing ports where several berths are designated for fishermen.

Commercial fishers target a variety of species

The Montenegrin fisheries sector is primarily coastal and with significant scope for further development. Montenegro’s catch represents only a small percentage of the total catch in the Adriatic and Mediterranean (1-2%). The catch of blue fish by commercial fishermen at sea includes sardines, anchovies, mackerel, tuna, bonito, swordfish, and goby. White fish that are targeted include hake, mullet, bream, bogue, sea bream, monkfish, gurnard, common sole, seabass, seabream, and grouper. In addition, fishers also catch deep-water rose shrimp.

Production costs in the marine fishing sector are high, primarily due to the age of the fleet and the need for constant maintenance and repair of vessels. Labour, including the work of the vessel owner himself, that is, the fisherman, accounts for the highest share of costs. Expenses on fuel range from 19% to 39% of the total and are highest in the
trawler segment.

Professional fishermen’s earnings are not fixed and depend on the success of the fishing operation, the condition of the vessel, and the gear. The highest earnings are achieved by vessels in the small coastal fishing sector that target high-quality white fish species that are in demand on the market, and at the same time have the lowest costs (fuel consumption, labour, maintenance of vessels, and fishing gear). Although trawlers have the largest catch volumes, their high costs mean their earnings are proportionately lower than those of the coastal fishing segment. On the other hand seiners’ earnings are limited by demand on the market, and there is no organised processing industry to buy up large bluefish catches.

Commercial fishing on Lake ­Skadar is based on the fishing of several species, of which carp, bleak, and eel are the most important and for which demand on the market is high.

Rainbow trout is the main farmed fish

Freshwater aquaculture is focused exclusively on the breeding of coldwater fish species with the absolute dominance of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). There are 24 trout farms, of which 19 are farms with raceways and five with cage systems. The sector employs some 150 workers. By area, the farms can be categorised into large (over 3,000 sq. m) of which there are five; medium-sized (from 1,000-3,000 sq. m), two in number; and small (up to 1,000 sq. m), 17. Although bred intensively, the volume of fish raised per unit area is relatively small—about 25 kg/sq. m. The largest farm is located on Piva lake and has a cage breeding system producing 100-130 tonnes per year. The total volume of farmed trout produced in 2022 was 721 t.

Over four fifths of the production costs go towards feed, labour, and fry, while water, transportation, medicines, and depreciation account for the remainder.


Some two dozen companies have permits to farm fish and bivalves in the Bay of Kotor. Finfish species produced include seabass and seabream, while shellfish farmers grow mussels and oysters. Of the total volume of production from mariculture, mussels constitute 61%, oysters 3%, seabream 17%, and seabass 20%. The total amount of farmed fish and shellfish in 2022 was 366 tonnes.

Recreational fishing is a popular activity

Sports and recreational fishing in Montenegro is popular both among local residents and tourists. The most popular places for sea fishing are Budva and Boka bay. Species caught from the flat coast or in the bay include seabream, seabass, and mackerel. Along the rocky shores of Montenegro, it is possible to catch seabass, barracuda, eel, and mackerel, while bullet tuna and flounder can be fished from a sandy beach or river mouth. Underwater fishing is extremely popular in Montenegro.

When it comes to lakes, popular destinations are Lake Skadar, Lake Biograd, Lake Piva and Lake Plav, and the most popular rivers for sports and recreational fishing are Tara, Morača, and Lim. Brook trout (Salmo fontinalis), huchen (Hucho hucho), grayling (Thymallus thymallus), and marble trout (Salmo marmoratus) are among the common species caught.

Smoking carp goes back a long way

Fish processing has a long tradition in Montenegro, where fishers have always preserved fish by salting and drying. This gives a distinct taste to the product but also allows the fish to be transported and sold on distant markets. Probably the most famous freshwater fish specialty in Montenegro is hot- or cold-smoked carp. This is a famous delicacy that attracts numerous domestic and foreign visitors to Virpazar and Rijeka Crnojevića, two of the most famous tourist destinations on the Lake Skadar. In historic times these specialties were consumed at the Austrian court (in the 19th century), as well as at markets in Italy (13th century). The tradition of preparing smoked carp and dried crucian carp has survived to this day, so these products can still be found in the markets of coastal cities.

Currently, there are only two fish processors in Montenegro and their production capacity is small. The fish factory Zeta fish has a wide range of fish products and an annual capacity of up to 10 tonnes. The MM Ribarstvo fish factory has a capacity of 50,000 cans of smoked carp per year. In addition to these two companies, commercial fishermen also deal with other traders, who sell their dried, salted and marinated products on the markets.

Existing consumption levels suggest scope for growth

Lack of auctions means catches are traded through markets or sold directly.

The consumption of fish in Montenegro is extremely small. FAO data show fish consumption to be 6.75 kg per capita. Cuttlefish, squid, octopus, mussels, and oysters are the most widely consumed seafood. Fresh fish and fillets, frozen fish, smoked, and dried fish are also available. The value chain starts with aquaculture and mariculture producers, as well as commercial fishermen, and importers of fish and seafood. Farmers, fishers, as well as importers of fish sell their products to retailers, supermarkets, and restaurants. There are no auctions, but professional fishermen sell their catches through markets and directly to restaurants.

Montenegro has concluded free trade agreements with several countries. It has fully liberalised trade with all CEFTA (Central European Free Trade Agreement) partners. With the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) of 2008, trade liberalisation with EU members has begun. Montenegro is a full member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The country has a longstanding deficit in the trade in fish and fish products. Imports have grown particularly in the last five years. Official statistical data show that foreign trade (imports and exports combined) in fish and seafood products in 2022 amounted to around EUR26 million, an increase of 33% compared to 2021. Exports amounted to only 0.2%. The value of imports in 2022 grew by EUR6.5 million or 34% compared to the previous year.

Sectoral policy seeks to increase production and value

Montenegro has valuable but underutilised resources. Sectoral policy is implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management, through the Fisheries Directorate. Government policy is based on the EU legislative framework which is adopted into domestic legislation. Fish catches may not lead to overfishing, and capacity must be in line with the resource. Other priorities include increasing the production of fish and other aquatic organisms (aquaculture), using the potential of the open sea for the mariculture program, increasing processing, improving management resources, the fight against IUU, the protection of native species of fish and other aquatic organisms, product branding, elements of food safety, establishing an investment climate, researching fish and shellfish resources, and introducing new innovative environmental protection systems, and new farming systems.

Gradually moving towards EU integration

Montenegro is a candidate country for EU membership. Chapter 13 for fisheries was opened in 2016, and the latest report1 from the European Commission suggests that Montenegro has still some way to go. The report pointed out that Montenegro needs to finalise and adopt the new fisheries and aquaculture strategy with the action plan on aligning national legislation with and enforcing the EU acquis; adopt the pending legislation on market organisation, structural measures and State aid in fisheries and aquaculture and on governing marine fisheries and aquaculture; and continue to strengthen administrative, data collection, scientific advice, inspection and control capacity.

Montenegro has fully accepted the European method of data collection and processing and actively monitors the ­Montenegrin part of the Adriatic Sea in line with the EU data collection framework (DCF) and the GFCM’s data collection reference framework (DCRF). As a member of the GFCM, ­Montenegro has implemented relevant regulations related to IUU fishing in its legislation. The fishing monitoring centre, which has been in operation since 2018, enables 24-hour control of vessels at sea and is important primarily from the aspect of the safety of our fishermen. It was established with support from the European pre-accession funds IPA and IPARD.

Challenges exist but the future is promising

Montenegro has significant untapped potential in the fishing sector and currently faces a challenging period of adaptation and adoption of European legislation while at the same time strengthening infrastructure through the construction of fishing ports and through fleet modernisation. The conditions for a more innovative and robust processing sector that supplies the domestic as well as international market are also being created. Protecting and expanding fish breeding grounds and exploiting the potential to deploy recirculation aquaculture systems are additional opportunities to increase production. Although the sector faces challenges, access to European structural funds will greatly support fishers, fish farmers, and processors to add greater value to their production in the future.

Katarina Burzanović
Director of the Fisheries Directorate
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management

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