by Thomas Jensen
Croatia flag
  • Capital: Zagreb
  • Population: 3.9 million (2022, Eurostat)
  • GDP: €66.9 million Euro (2022, Eurostat)
  • GDP/capita: €17 130 (2022, Eurostat)

Overview of the Croatian fisheries and aquaculture sector

Marine fisheries

HR Fish

With a sea surface of 31 067 km², 1 242 islands, islets, and reefs, totalling 6,278 km of coastline, Croatia has a long tradition in fisheries which provide a source of income throughout the year for coastal and island communities. In addition to being a source of supply of healthy food, fisheries add value to vibrant coastal tourism.

There are two main types of capture fishery at sea in the Republic of Croatia, commercial and non-commercial. Commercial fishery encompasses large-scale fishery and small-scale coastal fishery, which is limited in terms of gears as well as manner of operation. Non-commercial fishery at sea includes sport and recreational fishing.

Fishing takes place mostly in the Adriatic Sea and is characterized by multispecies fisheries. More than 45% of Croatia’s fishing vessels are registered as multipurpose vessels that use different gear over the course of the year. The catches are primarily small pelagic species (over 90% of the volumes), where sardine and anchovy are the major species. The remaining catch is split between other fish, bivalves, crustaceans, and cephalopods.

In 2022, Croatia had 7,501 vessels in its commercial fishing fleet, where small-scale coastal fishing boats less than 12 metres represented over 95%.  However, the largest percentage of catches (up to 90%) are made by purse-seines that target small pelagic fish (sardine and anchovy), representing 3% of total fishing vessels. Bottom trawlers account for 7% of the fleet. The largest number of vessels have been active in driftnet and fixed net fishery.

Area17 CroatiaSince October 2013 exploitation of sardine and anchovy in area GSA17 (fishing area 17 as shown in the map) has been managed by the Plan for Small Pelagic Stocks in GSA17. All vessels actively fishing for anchovy and sardines in GSA17 are subject to the provisions of this plan. In terms of effort management, the vessels fishing actively for small pelagics have a limit of activity of 20 days per month with a total maximum of 180 days per year, with an additional 144 days for vessels specifically targeting anchovies.

In 2022, there were 6,510 people employed in the marine fishing sector, and the total catch reached 62,912 tonnes.  According to the EU Master Dana Register (2023), there are 273 landing places in the country. The most important landing places for small pelagic species are Kali, Zadar, Biograd na moru, and Pula. For demersal catches locations are Mali Lošinj, Tribunj and Zadar.

Inland fisheries

The two categories of fishing in freshwater (inland) are commercial and sport-recreational. The management of inland waters is the responsibility of fishing rights holders, mostly associations, covering management elements such as fishing rights, permits, control, and stocking surveillance.

In Croatia, most of the natural lakes are state-owned, while out of the 21,000 km of rivers and creeks, 4,000 km are state waters and 17,000 km are local waters. All of the state-owned rivers are available for recreational fishing, while commercial fishing is allowed only in the Danube River and lower parts of the Sava River. Today, there are about 30 fishers with permission to fish on Danube and Sava river. Commercial inland fisheries have low economic value and a small impact on the economy.

The most caught species include common carp, other cyprinid species, wels catfish, pike, and pikeperch. Competition for space and conflicts with recreational fisheries, seem to further diminish the potential for maintaining and developing a viable commercial inland fishery in the near future. In strategic documents, commercial fisheries in natural waters will gradually be replaced by recreational fisheries, as it has been difficult to find waters for commercial fishing.


HR Aqua

Croatia’s coastal areas and inland waters have perfect conditions for aquaculture development. The country pioneered commercial marine aquaculture with one of the first and largest hatcheries for European sea bass in the early 1980s.

Marine aquaculture production includes farming of finfish and shellfish and in 2022 reached 23 101 tonnes. Finfish farming involves a closed farming cycle (with of the exception Atlantic bluefin tuna), where the first phases take place in a hatchery, and then moves to floating cages at sea. The largest number of farms for marine fish are in Zadar region. The most important species are sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) with 43% of the total marine aquaculture production, followed by sea bream (Sparus aurata) with 32%.

Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) represents a different type of activity, as it is about ranching more than farming:   wild caught specimens of 8–10 kg in size are grown to market size of 30 kg and larger for sale, mainly to the Japanese market. In 2022 the volumes of Atlantic bluefin tuna represented over 14% of the volume of marine aquaculture production. In 1996, Croatian producers were among the first in the world who started aquaculture of Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean.

The most important shellfish species are farmed Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis) and European flat oyster (Ostrea edulis). Total shellfish production in 2022 reached 1,096 tonnes of which 1,006 tonnes belonged to Mediterranean mussel.

The farming of freshwater fish species (4,117 tonnes in 2022) is divided between farming of warm-water species (cyprinids) and farming of cold-water species (salmonids). The most important species in freshwater farming are common carp (Cyprinus carpio) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Carp is traditionally farmed in the region of Slavonia, the lowland part of Eastern Croatia. Common carp represented 67% (2 459 tonnes) of the total national carp production, whereas the rest was made up by Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), Grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella), and Silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix). Trout production reached 424 tonnes or one-tenth of the total freshwater aquaculture volumes. The freshwater aquaculture production is mostly sold on the national market, but also to the EU market with exports of about 25%.  The farms are mostly microscale enterprises, particularly family-owned farms.


Although domestic freshwater aquaculture represents a relatively small part of the fisheries and aquaculture sector’s economy, it has the potential to boost development and jobs in the inland and rural areas of the country. The freshwater aquaculture sector is very important for the maintenance and conservation of biological diversity and supporting the local community.

Processing and trade

HR Proc

The fish processing industry is situated in coastal and rural area. In 2020, a total of 48 enterprises employed 1,356 people. Important products are frozen fish, canned fish (anchovies, sardines, large pelagic fish), dried, salted, or filleted fish (mostly sea bass and sea bream as well as from small pelagics). Smoked and marinated products are also produced in small quantities. The total sales of processed products reached €82.9 million.

Fisheries are an important element of the overall export of agricultural products for the Republic of Croatia, accounting for some 7% of total exports of agricultural products.

Croatia is a net exporter of fish and seafood products, with about €50 million surplus. Japan is the most important destination for Croatian tuna (12% of the value in 2022), while within the EU, Italy (31%), Spain (11%), and Slovenia (8%) are the main export destinations for fresh and salted fishery products. Demersal fish and cephalopods are exported fresh mainly to Italy. Export of fish and seafood for human consumption in 2022 amounted to €213.5 million and 66, 613 tonnes.

The value of fishery imports is significantly lower than exports. Squid is the most significant import. According to Eurostat, in 2022 imports of fish and seafood for human consumption amounted to €260 million and 64,365 tonnes in 2022, and originated mainly from Spain (23% in value), Italy (19%), the Netherlands (9%), and Slovenia (8%).


The study of the consumption of fishery and aquaculture products in Croatia, conducted by the Directorate of Fisheries in the Ministry of Agriculture, reveals that in 2019 per capita consumption amounted to 20.02 kg – an 11% increase compared to the previous year.

According to the Croatian Food Agency, only 16% of Croatians consume sea fish, and less than 5% consume freshwater fish. Sea fish is consumed most in Istria, Dalmatia, and Lika, and the latter also has the highest level of freshwater fish consumption.

Croatian fish consumers are price-sensitive, and fish prices shape their purchase habits. Sea bass, seabream, salmonids, anchovies, and sardines are the most preferred species.


The key challenges in Croatia’s fisheries sector are in responding to the competitiveness and sustainability of fisheries enterprises, including small-scale coastal fleets. The improvement of safety and working conditions, as well as increasing quality, control, and traceability of catches is a high priority.

The concentration of the bulk of fisheries on just two species, anchovies, and sardines, is a challenge, which calls for diversification in the production targeting different species and for value addition for the two species, in order to increase the income of fishers.

The major challenges in the aquaculture sector are poor diversification of species and products, technological development of the sector, non-existence of marketing strategies, and the lack of product branding and licensing. The lack of processing capacities and production of products with a higher added value, together with market instability and high production price are additional challenges to be overcome.

After Croatia joined the EU, the national aquaculture sector, and especially the freshwater aquaculture sector, has been influenced by structural changes on the market for both producers and consumers. While international trade has become easier, domestic trade of aquaculture products has become more difficult due to the increased competition. Therefore, the Croatian aquaculture sector needs to increase its competitive advantages for the entire sector to secure economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable development in the future.

The processing industry is facing its challenges by improving the market organization of fishery products and establishing the first processors organizations (POs), as well as achieving greater market supply with high-quality fish products. These measures are creating more accessible and new markets, while fostering producers’ competitiveness. An additional challenge for processors is to improve cooling/storage capacities to satisfy efficiency, health, and safety standards as well as product quality.

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