- Capital: Tallinn
- Population: 1.33 million (2021, Eurostat)
- GDP: €26.8 billion (2020, Eurostat)
- GDP/capita: €20 190 (2020, Eurostat)
Overview of the Estonian fisheries and aquaculture sector
Estonia, facing the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, has a coastline of 3 700 km. This excludes its islands, which number more than 1 500. Estonia’s diverse terrain includes rocky beaches, old-growth forests, and many lakes, the biggest being Lake Peipus. Tallinn is the main commercial port, while Pärnu is the most important fishing port.
The Estonian marine capture fishery sector includes distant water fishing in the Northwest and Northeast Atlantic, and trawl and coastal fishing in the Baltic Sea. In 2020, there were 1 898 fishing vessels, and the total marine catch amounted to 70 660 tonnes worth € 54 million.
The distant water fleet comprised seven vessels that target northern prawn (Pandalus borealis), Atlantic redfishes (Sebastes spp.), skate, and Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides) in the Northwest Atlantic, Northeast Atlantic, and Svalbard. The fleet yielded 21% of the total marine catch in terms of volumes, and over 75% in value.
The fishery in the Baltic Sea is divided into the marine trawl fishery and the coastal fishery. The marine trawl fishery in 2020 consisted of 28 vessels and contributed almost 64% (45 271 tonnes) volume and over 14% (€7 661 thousand) value of the total marine capture. This fishery targets both sprat and Baltic herring, which represent about 95% of the Baltic Sea catches; other species captured include European perch, smelt, and flounder.
Fishing quotas in the coastal area – the small-scale fisheries -account for about one third of the total Baltic Sea quotas. The number of vessels in 2020 was 1 863, and the catch amounted to 10 495 tonnes worth €5 485 thousand. The gear commonly used comprises different kinds of passive gears such as traps and gill nets. The marine areas where the fishers operate include Pärnu Bay, Gulf of Finland, Gulf of Riga, the Väinameri Sea, and the Central Baltic near the Saaremaa and Hiiumaa islands. The most important fish species targeted by the coastal fishing sector are perch and herring in coastal waters with marginal volumes of smelt, flounder, round goby, and vimba bream.
Commercial fishing in inland waters focuses predominantly on Lake Peipus. This lake annually accounts up to 90% (3 239 tonnes in 2020) of all the inland water commercial fishery. Lake Võrtsjärv is the next most important inland water body with about 5% of the catch. The remainder is divided between several lakes and rivers. European perch, pike perch, and freshwater bream are the main species caught, and nets, traps, pound nets, and Danish seines are the main fishing gears. The number of inland vessels in 2020 was 500, and the catch amounted to 3 615 tonnes worth €6 513 thousand. European perch was the largest species with almost 35% (1 251 tonnes) of the total inland catch volumes.
All aquaculture production in Estonia is derived from freshwater ponds, flow-through systems, and recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS). The aquaculture sector is constrained by climatic conditions in the northern latitudes, which have short periods of vegetation growth, below-zero temperatures in winter, and cold water.
Rainbow trout is the largest species farmed in Estonia, while other species include crayfish, tench, European eel, African catfish, carp, wels catfish, Siberian and Russian sturgeon, and grass carp among others.
In 2020 there were 48 enterprises in the aquaculture sector, divided evenly between trout and crayfish farms, though some farmers cultivate both species, or have multiple production profile. Farming of fish for human consumption is often combined with the provision of fishing tourism opportunities in freshwater ponds and related services, or with juvenile production for restocking.
Aquaculture production in 2020 reached 1 039 tonnes worth over 4 billion euros. Trout led the total production both in terms of volume and value, reaching 870 tonnes worth nearly three million euros. The production of crayfish amounted to 1.1 tonnes, far below the highest production level reached by Estonian farmers (almost 2 tonnes in 2009). Fish roe placed on the market amounted to 10.5 tonnes worth over €290 thousand, which was the highest volume ever sold.
Processing and trade
According to the national statistics, in 2019 Estonia’s fish processing sector employed 1 218 persons (full time equivalent) across 59 enterprises. The volumes amounted to 71 thousand tonnes worth € 129.6 million. Frozen whole fish (both marine and freshwater) is the largest product group and its annual volumes can reach up to 50% of the sector’s total output. Other major products are fish fillets in batter or breadcrumbs including fish fingers, followed by fresh fillets, and canned products made of sardines, sardinella, brisling and sprats, whole or in pieces. A large share of the product range is sold in the domestic market.
In 2020, Estonia’s fish exports totalled 102 998 tonnes worth € 162.6 million. Whole frozen fish was the largest export item with 67% of total volume, followed by prepared and preserved fish with 15%. Fish fillets either fresh or frozen made up 4.4% in terms of volume, but 21% in terms of value. The largest markets in volume terms are Ukraine, Denmark, Latvia, and Finland. while the Nordic countries, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark are the largest destinations in terms of value. The main items exported are frozen herring, frozen and canned sprat, and battered fish fillets.
In 2020, imports totalled €136.3 million and 65 803 tonnes. The vast majority of imports come from EU member states (about 80% in both volume and value). The leading seafood exporters to Estonia are Finland, Sweden, and Latvia. Whole fresh fish was the largest imported item with 42% of total volume, followed by whole frozen fish with 28%, and fresh fish fillets with 15% of the total. The latter however represented 24% in terms of value – only one percent less than the value of imported fresh whole fish. Among the frozen fish, imports into Estonia are mainly salmon, herring, and sprat, while the fresh fish are mainly salmon, trout ,and sprats.
Sources indicate that consumption of fisheries and aquaculture products amounted to 15 kg in 2019 which is 13% lower than in 2015, and 38% below the EU average. The most popular species are salmon, trout, Atlantic and Baltic herring, and sprat. Consumers prefer to buy the fish in fresh or smoked form.
Useful Links for Estonia
- Ministry of Rural Affairs
- Fisheries Information Center
- Estonian Association of Fishery
- Statistics Estonia
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