Population: 1.97 million (2016, Eurostat)
GDP: €21.2 billion
GDP/capita: €10,700 (2015, Eurostat)
Overview of the Latvian fisheries and aquaculture sector
Situated in north-east Europe, on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, the Republic of Latvia has a coastline of 4,984 km, accounting for 0.7% of the EU’s 66,000 km coastline. Inland waters in total cover 2,419 km², or 3.7% of Latvia’s territory. Riga, Ventspils, and Liepaja are the largest ports in Latvia. Fishing vessels also use small ports like Skulte, Mersrags, Salacgriva, Pavilosta, Roja, and Engure.
Latvia’s fisheries sector is steeped in longstanding traditions and history. The fishing fleet comprises 686 fishing vessels: 63 fish offshore in the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga, 11 high seas vessels, and 612 small scale coastal fishing vessels. High seas fishing takes place in the Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) and exclusive economic zones of Mauritania and Morocco.
Mainly stationery fishing gear is used in coastal fishing. Catches in these waters depend on the total quota allocated to Latvia. Total catches for Baltic Sea coastal fishing constitute 3% of the total Latvian fishing fleet catches. Main species are Baltic herring and cod. Some coastal fishermen are diversifying their activities by including tourism, angling, aquaculture activities, and other services. Some coastal fishermen also are involved in fish processing, but mainly for internal markets. The main problem in coastal fishing nowadays is caused by seals, which damage catch and fishing gear.
In 2015, offshore fisheries consisted of 63 vessels. The number of fishing vessels in this segment has decreased during the last few years due to the implementation of a decommissioning programme. As a result, the fleet overcapacity was significantly reduced, and average catches and profits per vessel increased notably. Catches in the Baltic Sea offshore fisheries constitute 77% of the total Latvian fishing fleet catches. In 2015, total catches in the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga amounted to 62,500 tonnes. Non-quota species that are targeted in the Baltic Sea include turbot, flounder, European smelt and others.
In 2015, eleven vessels were fishing on the high-seas. Total catches amounted to 18,700 tonnes. All the fish that were on board the vessels fishing in Morocco, Mauritania, and the North Atlantic were frozen and sold in countries located close to the main fishing areas. The overall catch composition and the available fishing opportunities in the Latvian high-seas fisheries are changing more than they are in the Baltic Sea fisheries. In high seas, mackerel, horse mackerel, sardinella, and redfish account for most of the catches. Recently, fishing of snow crab has been developed in the Barents Sea.
Inland fishing catches amounted to 227 tonnes in 2015. This type of fishing has decreased significantly over the last few years. Such changes are related to prohibition of fishing activities with traps and nets in numerous lakes and rivers, in favor of recreational fishery and angling. This type of fishing is limited with the amount of fishing gear allowed for use in respective water bodies. In places where the fishing is allowed, the fishing opportunities have been regularly strengthened by the implementation of restocking plans. The main reasons for reduced business activities in inland waters is also an undeveloped market for freshwater fish and low demand for processing.
Around 20 fish species are caught in inland waters, of which river lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis), 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 now, used mostly extensive production methods. Currently, aquaculture is linked only with the freshwater ecosystem and there are no aquaculture farms in the coastal areas, though recently interest in marine aquaculture has grown.
About 153 aquaculture farms were registered by the Food and Veterinary Service in 2015. Five of them are state farms, whose main activity is fish reproduction in natural water bodies. 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 of freshwater, but rather reflect the traditions and socio-economic interests of landowners. The main species produced are carp, trout, goldfish, pike, catfish, and sturgeon.
In 2015, 863 tonnes live weight of fish were produced for human consumption, of which 64% was common carp (Cyprinus carpio). Over three years, a 50% increase in production volumes has been recorded.
Production of fish fry, fingerlings, and European smolts for release in natural bodies of water is a significant activity to compensate for the damage to fish resources caused by the development of hydropower plants on rivers, pollution of water, and the degradation of natural habitats.
Processing and trade
The fish processing industry in Latvia is a well-developed and locally significant sector located along Latvia’s coastline. It is one of the largest food production sectors in Latvia and employs the highest number of employees – 4,190 persons in 2015. During recent years, changes in the number of processing companies have not been significant. In 2015, there were 101 companies. Historically, Latvian fish processing companies have produced both for the domestic and the export markets.
There are different types of fishery products made in Latvia such as frozen, salted, and smoked products, unsterilized 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, mackerel, sardine, and sardinella. Freshwater fish species, such as pike, catfish, and common carp, are used in small quantities.
The fisheries sector is an exporting sector of the economy and maintains a positive external trade balance. The export of fish products has consistently exceeded imports. The external trade balance for fisheries products in 2015 was nearly €30 million. In 2015, fish products and canned fish were exported to more than 60 countries. The total value of fish products, including canned fish was €174 million.
Historically, Russia and the CIS countries have played a significant role in the export of fishery products from Latvia, but lately EU countries, followed by CIS countries, have become the main destination for these products, except for canned fish. In 2015, the main destinations in the EU were Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, and Denmark. Among the CIS countries, the main destinations were Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Moldova.
In 2015, Latvia imported fish products and canned fish from over 44 countries to supply the fish processing sector with the necessary quantity of raw materials, as well as to expand the assortment of fish products and canned fish on the domestic market. In value terms, imported fish products and canned fish increased by 6.5%, amounting to more than €144 million. In 2015, the leading suppliers of fish to Latvia were Estonia, Lithuania, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Denmark, and Spain.
In 2014, the average annual fish consumption in Latvia was 25,5 kg per capita (live weight equivalent – kg/capita per year), equal to the EU average consumption. In 2014, fish consumption decreased in comparison to 2013, mainly due to lower consumption of fresh fish. Pollock, herring, and mackerel are the most popular saltwater species, while carp, trout, and panga are the most popular freshwater species.
Pollock, salmon, cod, and trout are gaining popularity in the market, indicating a structural change in consumption. Fish has traditionally been an important part of daily diets in Latvia. There is a growing awareness among Latvian consumers regarding fish and seafood consumption. They are choosing fish products with more care and attention, getting information about products, and benefiting from campaigns promoting consumption and the health benefits of fish and seafood. Latvian consumers are receptive to market promotions.
The main challenges in Latvian fisheries are improving the port infrastructure as well as the quality, control, and traceability of products landed. There is also the need to invest in selective and smart fishing gear as well as to ensure a balance between fishing capacity and fishing opportunities.
In the aquaculture sector, the main aim is developing production in recirculation systems with the EMFF’s support.The EMFF funding will be invested in new or improved products, processes, technology, management systems, and marketing measures for processing of 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