Population: 4.2 million (2015)
GDP: €43.8 million (2015)
GDP/capita: €10,426 (2015)
Overview of the Croatian fisheries and aquaculture sector
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 commercial fishing sensu stricto, while the new category of small-scale coastal fishery is limited in terms of gears as well as manner of operation. Non-commercial fishery at sea includes sport and recreational fishing.
In total, Croatia has 7,727 vessels (in 2015) in its fishing fleet. Of the commercial fishery, small-scale coastal fishing makes up 91 % 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 4 % 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. Since October 2013 exploitation of sardine and anchovy is regulated by GSA17, the management plan for small pelagic stocks. Its most recent amendments were adopted in 2014. 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 limit of 144 days for vessels targeting anchovies.
In 2015, there were 7,849 active professional fishermen. 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, sardine, and anchovy, which make up nearly 90% of catches. The remaining catch is split between other fish (6 %), bivalves and cephalophods (4 %). In a 5–year period total catches have increased from about 52,000 tonnes in 2005 to over 72,000 tonnes in 2015. There are 264 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.
Commercial inland fishing in Croatia is confined to the Danube River and lower parts of the Sava River. Professional fishing is not allowed in lakes, reservoirs, or estuaries.
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 and rivers are state-owned. 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. Most fishermen are located on the Danube River. Common carp, cyprinid species, catfish, pike, and pikeperch are the most important catch species of commercial inland fisheries. Commercial inland fisheries in Croatia have low economic value and a small impact on the economy, and freshwater fishery is limited by the availability of freshwater bodies and other resources. Competition for space and related conflicts with other sectors, such as recreational fisheries, seem to further diminish the potential for maintaining and developing a viable commercial 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.
Croatia’s coastal areas and inland waters have perfect conditions for aquaculture development. In 2015, the total number of aquaculture production centers was 420, including both marine (373 farms) and freshwater (47 farms). The farms are mostly represented by microscale enterprises, particularly family-owned farms.
Croatia pioneered commercial marine aquaculture with one of the first and largest hatcheries for European seabass in the early 1980s.
Marine aquaculture 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 seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax), seabream (Sparus aurata), and Atlantic bluefin tuna (Tunnus thynnus). Atlantic bluefin tuna represent on average nearly 25 % of the volume of marine aquaculture production. Farming is based on catching small wild tuna (8–10 kg) which are then grown to market size of 30 kg and larger for sale mainly to the Japanese market. 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 galoprovincialis) and European flat oyster (Ostrea edulis) are the most important shellfish species. Total annual production of marine aquaculture in 2015 was 12,043 tonnes.
The farming of freshwater fish species is divided between farming of warm-water species (cyprinid species) and farming of cold-water species (salmonid species). The most important species in freshwater farming are carp (Cyprinus carpio) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Total annual production of freshwater aquaculture in 2015 was 4,832 tonnes. Carp is traditionally farmed in the region of Slavonia, the lowland part of Eastern Croatia. Common carp represents 82 % (3,401 tonnes in 2015) of the total national carp production, whereas the rest is made up by Bighead carp, Grass carp, and Silver carp. The freshwater aquaculture production is mostly sold on the national market, but also to the EU market with exports of about 42 %. In 2015, out of 47 facilities, there were 24 cyprinid and 23 salmonid farming facilities, respectively, in 18 different counties.
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 a vulnerable local environment.
Processing and trade
The fish processing industry with its 130 years old tradition is situated in coastal and rural area. The average size of the enterprises is around 60 full-time employees, while the total amount of recorded employees is approximately 1,500. Important products are canned fish (small oil fish, large pelagic fish), dried, salted, fish filets (mostly from seabass and seabram as well as from small pelagic, which include sardine and anchovy), and frozen fish (crustaceans, shellfish, and molluscs). Capture of small pelagic fish is transformed chiefly into salted and canned products. Smoked and marinated products are also produced in small quantities. The total amount of processed products was 23,508 tonnes in 2015.
The market organization of fisheries products is based on registered first buyers. The first sales in accordance with the Marine Fisheries Act may only be to the registered first buyers. Capture fisheries products may be placed on the market for the first time in accordance with the regulation governing marketing standards (presentation, preservation, freshness, and size).
Market chains and the organization of the market itself differ between demersal and pelagic species. A large percentage of high-quality demersal fish (bottom trawl fishery, beach seine fishery, etc.) is exported after the first sale, while small pelagic species form the backbone of processing industry, the salting and marinating industry, as well as fish feed for tuna farms.
Fisheries are an important element of the overall export of agricultural products for the Republic of Croatia. Croatia is a net exporter of fish and seafood products. Export of farmed tuna is ranked fifth highest among Croatia’s total agricultural product exports. Japan is the most important destination for Croatian tuna, while within the EU, Italy and Spain are the main export destinations for fresh fish and salted products respectively. Demersal fish and cephalopods are exported fresh mainly to Italy. Export of fish and seafood in 2014 amounted €187.1 million, split more or less equally between the EU and destinations outside the EU. The total exports of fisheries and aquaculture products amounted to 52,652 tonnes in 2014.
The value of fishery imports is significantly lower than the value of exports. Frozen herring, which is used to fatten tuna, is the most imported species followed by frozen squid. Imports originate mainly from Spain, the Falkland Islands, Norway, Sweden, and Italy, and amounted to a total of €127.5 million. The total imports of fisheries and aquaculture products in Croatia reached 32,037 tonnes in 2014.
According to the Eurostat data, per capita consumption of fish and seafood (live weight equivalent – kg/capita per year) in Croatia is estimated at 18.4 kg. Total consumption of fish and fish products per capita is significantly lower than in other Mediterranean countries. Consumers prefer captured fish, fresh, whole, and domestic products. A small percentage of processed fish is consumed, usually as canned products. Fish is consumed mostly at home, traditionally once a week (on Friday), and during holidays and traditional Observances. The consumption of fish is higher in coastal areas than inland. Most fish are sold at traditional fish markets where the availability and freshness of fish products is considered very good. Consumption of fisheries and aquaculture products in Croatia has been increasing throughout the years.
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.
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 became 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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