Population: 1.93 million (2018, Eurostat)
GDP: €27.3 billion
GDP/capita: €13 900 (2017, Eurostat)
Overview of the Latvian fisheries and aquaculture sector
The Republic of Latvia is situated in the north-east Europe, on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Latvia has a coastline of 498 km, which is 6.3% of the Baltic Sea 5000 km coastline. Inland waters cover 2 479 km², or 3.8% of Latvia’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, and it consists of the coastal fishing fleet, Baltic Sea (including the Gulf of Riga) offshore fleet, and the high-seas fleet sector.
The coastal fishing fleet
The fleet segment is represented by 607 fishing boats (data of 2018) with overall length equal to or less than 12 m, many of them also without engine. This category constitutes 90.5% (data of 2018) 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 self-consumption. This sector plays an important role in the socio-economic environment of small coastal villages, as fishing is the major source of subsistence and employment in these areas. Although this is the largest fleet by numbers, the overall contribution to the Latvian total catch is small, approximately 3%. 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 sea coastal areas.
Baltic Sea (including the Gulf of Riga) offshore fleet
This sector consist of 55 fishing vessels, which include up to 8.2% of the total fishing fleet (data of 2018). 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; also nets. This fleet is responsible for 48,9% (data of 2018) of the total Latvian catch, and focuses on sprat (Sprattus sprattus), herring (Clupea harengus) and cod (Gadus morhua).
This segment is represented by 9 vessels or 1.3% of the total fishing fleet but contributes with 47.8% of the total Latvian catch (data of 2018). 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. 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 have fishing possibilities in the area governed by Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO), however in the recent years Latvian vessels cease operations in these waters because of low allocations and catches of interested species (redfish, shrimp).
Inland fishing catches amounted to 226 tonnes in 2017. This type of fishing has decreased significantly over the last years, due to a change related 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 and reached a maximum of 612 tonnes in the year 2000. 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.
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 the perfect conditions to develop aquaculture.
Aquaculture is a significant part of the fisheries industry, but is comparatively new and, until recent time, used mostly extensive production methods. Currently, aquaculture is linked only with the freshwater sources and there are no aquaculture farms in the sea coastal areas, though recently an interest in marine aquaculture in particular for local shellfish species, has grown.
Aquaculture farms registered by the Food and Veterinary Service and active in their field of activity numbered 88 in 2017. Five of them 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, pollution of water, and the degradation of natural habitats. The rest are private farms, including fish ponds for angling. Aquaculture establishments are sited in areas which are not necessarily directly related to the availability and quantity of freshwater, 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 spread of recirculating aquaculture systems.
In 2017, the aquaculture sector produced 808 tonnes of fish, with a market value of €2.2million. The main species produced is by far carp (Cyprinus carpio), followed by trout (Oncorhynchus mykis), catfish (Silurus glanis) and sturgeon (Acipenser spp.). Carp contributed 76% of all aquaculture production.
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. In 2017, there were 111 processing companies employing 3443 people. However in comparison with previous years, there was a decrease trend in companies and employees number. The main reason for this was recent crisis in traditional export markets (Russia, CIS) and the general economic stagnation and other related problems. Total production value was €150,9 million (data of 2017).
There are different types of fisheries products made in Latvia such as frozen, salted, and smoked products, preserves, ready to serve products, and sterilized canned fish. Canned fish producers mainly use raw materials from the Baltic Sea. However, to extend the range of products, fish processors also 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.
The fisheries sector maintains a positive trade balance, with exports consistently exceeding imports. In 2017, the value of exports was €206 million, €40 million more than imports.
The majority of fish products (including canned fish) exports are traded within the EU market (68% of total products). Denmark, Lithuania, Poland and Estonia are the main destinations for exports. Prepared and/or preserved fish products represent one third of Latvian exports to the EU. Among countries outside EU Ukraine, USA, Norway and Israel make up 11% of all fish products (including canned fish) exported by Latvia. The major part of those are frozen cod fillets, frozen fish and prepared and/or preserved fish. In addition 4% from the whole production (including prepared and canned fish and sea products) export are from the Latvian flag fishing vessels in Mauritania and Morocco waters.
In 2017, Latvia imported fish products (including canned fish) with a value of €166 million. It 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. The majority of imports (81,8% from total) come from EU countries: Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, Estonia and Denmark. Fresh/live products from the EU make up the majority share of products imported. For outside EU, Norway is the leading source of import with over 50% of the total import value. Frozen fish products constitute approximately 41% of the imported products from the whole Latvian import. 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 stable and varies from 13 to 10 kg per person per year. In 2016, the average consumption of fish products per household member in Latvia decreased to 10.0 kg. The Latvian market is saturated with numerous fish products including Latvian-made fish products as well as great number of imported fish products. The biggest demand in Latvia is for fresh and frozen fish. Salted, smoked fish products and non-sterilized canned fish are also requested by local customers. But 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, is still different with urban areas prevailing.
According to the EMFF Operational Programme (2014-2020), the main challenges for Latvian fishing sector are improving the port infrastructure as well as the quality, value added, and traceability of products landed. Other aims include activities related to the new markets, production development and guaranteed higher income for those working in the fisheries sector, including fish processing.
In the aquaculture sector, the main aim is increasing production and value added of the aquatic products. The EMFF also will support investments in the 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