- Capital: Riga
- Population: 1.89 million (2022, National Statistics)
- GDP: €39 billion (2022, Eurostat)
- GDP/capita: €20 610 (2022, Eurostat)
Overview of the Latvian fisheries and aquaculture sector
The Republic of Latvia is situated in northeast Europe, on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Latvia has a coastline of 498 km, which is 6.3% of the Baltic Sea’s 5,000 km coastline. Inland waters cover 2 479 km², or 3.8% of the country’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. Today, it consists of a coastal fishing fleet, Baltic Sea (including the Gulf of Riga) offshore fleet, and a high-seas fleet sector. In 2022 the total catches by the country’s marine fisheries reached 103.3 thousand tonnes. European sprat was the largest species with 30% of the total catch volumes, followed by Atlantic herring with 27%.
The coastal fishing fleet
The fleet segment is represented by 576 fishing boats (Eurostat data for 2022) with overall lengths equal to or less than 12 m and many of them also without engines. This category constitutes almost 90% of the total number of fishing vessels. Many of these boats are used by small and family-owned commercial fishing enterprises for sales or even for own consumption. This sector plays an important role in the socio-economic environment of small coastal villages, as fishing is usually the major source of subsistence and employment in these areas. The catches include Baltic herring (Clupea harengus), round goby (Neogobius melanostomus), flounder (Platichthys flesus), and smelt (Osmerus eperlana.), as well as inland species distributed in the coastal areas. Although this is the largest fleet by numbers, its overall contribution to the Latvia’s total catch is small, approximately 3%.
Baltic Sea (including the Gulf of Riga) offshore fleet
This sector consists of 56 fishing vessels, which include up to 8.7% of the total fishing fleet. Their lengths are between 12 and 40 m. These vessels operate only in the Baltic Sea (including the Gulf of Riga) offshore waters (ICES subdivisions 22 -32). The main gears used in this fleet segment are midwater and bottom otter trawls. Major targeted species are sprat (Sprattus sprattus), herring (Clupea harengus), and cod (Gadus morhua).
In 2022 the total catches in the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Riga amounted to 61.1 thousand tonnes, of which about 95% belonged to the offshore fleet, and the rest to the coastal.
This segment is represented by 11 vessels or 1.7% of the total fishing fleet but it contributed 41.1 thousand tonnes or 40% of the total marine catch volumes (Eurostat 2022). These vessels fish in waters governed by the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) and the waters of Islamic Republic of Mauritania and Kingdom of Morocco (under EU Fisheries partnership Agreements), using mainly midwater and bottom otter trawls. The target species in the NEAFC area is redfish (Sebastes spp.) and in the Mauritania and Morocco, horse mackerel (Trachurus spp.), mackerel (Scomber scombrus), sardinella (Sardinella spp.) and sardine (Sardina pilchardus). Latvia also has fishing possibilities in the area governed by Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO), but in recent years Latvian vessels have ceased operations in these waters because of low allocations and catches of targeted species (redfish, shrimp).
Inland fishing catches amounted to 1.1 thousand tonnes in 2022. This fishing segment has decreased significantly over the last few years due 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 very dominant in Latvia. 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 governmental restocking plans of valuable fish species. There is no separate register for the vessels involved in commercial inland fishing; instead, they are registered together with all other inland vessels/boats.
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 ideal conditions to develop aquaculture.
Aquaculture is a significant part of the fisheries industry, but is comparatively new and, until recent times, carried out mostly with extensive production methods. Currently, aquaculture is linked only with freshwater sources and there are no farms in the sea coastal areas. There are signs, however, of an interest in marine aquaculture in particular for local shellfish species.
Aquaculture farms registered by the Food and Veterinary Service and active in their field of activity numbered 68 in 2022. About 5% of the total number are state farms, whose main activity is valuable fish species reproduction in natural water bodies to compensate for the damage to fish resources caused by the construction of hydropower plants on rivers, water pollution, and the degradation of natural habitats. The rest are private farms, including ponds for angling. Aquaculture establishments are often situated in areas that are not necessarily directly related to the availability and quantity of fresh water, 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 growing use of recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS): in 2012 the number of RAS units in the country was 25 and by the end of 2022 the number was 78.
In 2022, the aquaculture sector produced 869.8 tonnes of fish and crustacean worth over €3.3 million. The main species by far is carp (Cyprinus carpio), followed by trout (Oncorhynchus mykis), catfish (Silurus glanis), and sturgeon (Acipenser spp.). Carp contributed to 70% of the total aquaculture production volumes, and sturgeon was the second largest species with an 8% share.
Processing and trade
The fish processing industry in Latvia is a well-developed and locally significant sector located basically along the country’s coastline. Historically, Latvian fish processing companies produced both for the domestic and the export markets. According to the national statistics, in 2022 there were 96 fish processing companies employing 2,705 persons. Over half of the enterprises are small units with not more than 9 employees. The production value was worth €281.6 million.
There are many different types of fisheries products made in Latvia, including frozen, salted, and smoked products, preserves, ready to serve products, and canned fish. To extend the range of products, fish processors use marine fish such as Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), mackerel (Scomber scombrus), sardine (Sardine pilchardus), and sardinella (Sardinella spp.). Freshwater fish species, such as pike (Esox lucius), catfish (Silurus glanis), and common carp (Cyprinus carpio), are used in small quantities.
Latvia maintains a positive trade balance in fish and fish products, with exports consistently exceeding imports. In 2022, the value of exports of fish and seafood for human consumption was €266.6 million, almost €23.5 million higher than imports, and the volumes of exports reached 91.1 thousand tonnes. Canned products were the largest group in value with over 49% share and in volume reaching 43%. Whole frozen fish was the second largest product group in terms of volume with over 38% share, while fish fillets were the largest group in value with over 22%.
The majority of the exports of fish for human consumption are traded within the EU market, including over 60% of the total volumes in 2022, of which the major shares went to Lithuania, Poland, and Estonia. Prepared and/or preserved fish and seafood products represented over 30% of Latvia’s exports to the EU. Outside of the EU, Ukraine was the major receiver of fish and seafood, absorbing almost half of Latvia’s non-EU export volumes and about one-third of the value. The United States and Belarus were other important destinations outside of the EU.
In 2022, Latvia imported 85,024 tonnes of fish and seafood products for human consumption worth €243 million. This allows 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.
Whole frozen fish was the largest product group with 50% of the total imported volumes. Fresh and chilled fish was the second largest group with 21% of the volumes, followed by fish fillets either fresh or frozen with a 14% share. EU countries supplied 77% of Latvia’s import volumes with Lithuania, Estonia, and Sweden being the major sources. Norway, United Kingdom, and Iceland, were the major suppliers from outside the EU. The main import species are salmon, cod, mackerel, and Atlantic herring.
Despite the fact that Latvia can be described as a country with good traditions of fish eating, fish consumption in Latvia is not very stable and varies annually from 10 to 13 kg per person, settling at 10.5 kg in 2019. The Latvian market is saturated with numerous fish products including Latvian-made seafood as well as a great number of imported fish products. The biggest demand in Latvia is for fresh and frozen fish. Salted or smoked fish products and non-sterilized preserved fish are also requested by local customers. Sterilized canned fish in the Latvian market is not so popular. Canned tuna, anchovy, fish products from molluscs and shrimp, as well as other preserved fish products in the premium segment also find their buyers in the Latvian market. The consumption of fish products, as well as its structure in rural and urban areas of Latvia varies, with urban areas prevailing over rural communities.
According to the EMFAF Operational Programme (2021-2027), the main challenges for the Latvian fishing sector are developing the port infrastructure and improving the quality, value addition, and traceability of products landed. Other aims include activities related to new markets, product development, and higher incomes for those working in the fisheries sector, including fish processing.
In the aquaculture sector, the main aim is increasing the output and the level of value addition of farmed fish products. The EMFAF also will support investments in innovations or improved processes, technologies, 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
If any of the above listed links do not work or if you have a relevant link to add, please let us know by sending us a quick email here.