by Thomas Jensen
Croatia flag
  • Capital: Zagreb
  • Population: 4.1 million (2018, Eurostat)
  • GDP: €48.9 millionEuro (2017, Eurostat)
  • GDP/capita: €11 800 (2017, 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 for healthy food, fisheries add value to a 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 fisheries, but also the new category of 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. The remaining catch is split between other fish (6%), bivalves and cephalopods (4%).

In total, Croatia has 7 559 vessels (2017) in its fishing fleet. Of the commercial fishery, small-scale coastal fishing makes up 92% of the fleet of vessels less than 12 metres in length. However, the largest percentage of catches (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 2015, there were 2 384 (FTE) employed in the fishing sector. In a 10–year period total catches have increased from about 48 000 tonnes in 2008 to over 69 000 tonnes in 2017, although there has been an increase compared to a decade ago, a decrease in catches has occurred in the last several years, from nearly 79 000 tonnes in 2014.  There are 166 landing places, out of which 63 represent 95% of the catches. The most important landing places for small pelagic species are Kali, Zadar, Biograd na moru, and Pula, while for demersal catches locations are Mali Lošinj, Tribunj and Zadar.

Inland fisheries

The two categories of fishing on freshwaters (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. 100% 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. In 2017, there were 28 fishers with permission to fish on Danube, and 18 on Sava river. Commercial inland fisheries have low economic value and a small impact on the economy. In 2017, total volume of freshwater commercial catches was about 64 tonnes (Common carp, cyprinid species, wels catfish, pike, and pikeperch), whereas total volume of recreational catches amounted to 448 tonnes (mostly common carp, grass carp and wels catfish). 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 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 fishery.


HR Aqua

Croatia’s coastal areas and inland waters have perfect conditions for aquaculture development. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Directorate of Fisheries, in 2017, the total number of aquaculture production centers were 204, including both marine (158 farms) and freshwater (46 farms). The farms are mostly microscale enterprises, particularly family-owned farms.

Croatia pioneered commercial marine aquaculture with one of the first and largest hatcheries for European sea bass in the early 1980s.

Marine aquaculture in 2017 was 17 115 tonnes and includes farming of finfish and shellfish. 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 white fish and tuna fish are in Zadar region. The most important species are sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax), sea bream (Sparus aurata).

Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) represents a different type of activity, as it is on growing of wild caught specimens (8–10 kg in size) which are then grown to market size of 30 kg and larger for sale mainly to the Japanese market. Atlantic bluefin tuna represent on average nearly 25% of the volume of marine aquaculture production. In 1996, Croatian producers were among the first in the world who started farming of Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean.


Farmed Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis) and European flat oyster (Ostrea edulis) are the most important shellfish species.

The farming of freshwater fish species (3 272 tonnes in 2017) 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 represents 74% (2 039 tonnes) of the total national carp production, whereas the rest is made up by Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis), Grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella), and Silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix). The freshwater aquaculture production is mostly sold on the national market, but also to the EU market with exports of about 25%. In 2017, out of the 46 facilities, there were 25 cyprinid and 21 salmonid farming facilities.

Though 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 2017, there were 45 enterprises employing 1 396 people. Important products are frozen fish, canned fish (anchovies, sardines, large pelagic fish), dried, salted and fish filets (mostly from sea bass and sea bream as well as from small pelagics). Smoked and marinated products are also produced in small quantities. The total amount of processed products was 23 255 tonnes in 2017.

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, while within the EU, Italy, Slovenia and Spain 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 in 2017 amounted to €208.1 million and 62 000 tonnes.

The value of fishery imports is significantly lower than exports. Squid is the most commonly imported fish product. Imports originate mainly from Spain, Italy, Slovenia and the Netherlands and amounted to €145.5 million and 41 909 tonnes in 2017.


The key challenges in Croatian 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.

Based on the National Strategic Plan for Aquaculture Development 2014–2020 the main 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.

Useful Links for Croatia

You may also like