Even in the Riga Central Market you will find a fish pavilion that is dedicated to the fish and aquaculture of Latvia. Latvia has a coastline of 494 km which makes up 0.7% of the EU’s coastline, but that’s not all, Latvia also has a number of lakes and ports that cover 2,340 km2 or 3.6% of Latvia’s territory. The largest ports in the country are Riga, Ventspils and Liepaja, although smaller vessels use some of the smaller ports like Roja, Engure, Skulte and Mersrags, just to mention a few. It has long been considered to have long tradition and history, thus why you’ll find in Latvia over 703 fishing vessels. Of these vessels 68 fish offshore in the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga, 7 of them are high sea vessels and 628 of them are smaller vessels dedicated to coastal fishing. It’s important to keep in mind that high-sea fishing is only done in approved areas by NorthWest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), the Fishery Committee for the Eastern Central Atlantic (CECAF) and the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC). The fishery activities count as less than 1% of the maritime activity in Latvia, which represents about 5.36% of employment in the country.
Since 2008, the fishery and aquaculture industry has been profitable in Latvia, and continues to be especially since the €184m investment program for this industry in 2014. The main objective of this investment is to boost the sector’s competitiveness, sustainability and viability. By increasing net profits for fishermen, employment rise, without affecting sustainability, the program can see real benefits in this traditional industry in Latvia, and will set the bar for at least 26 other states who can adopt the same program. Within the standards and regulations set by the different fishery organizations, this program will have some real challenges ahead like ensuring a balance between fishing capacity and available fishing opportunity, as well as promoting environmentally sustainable resource efficiency. Not to mention that another important benefit with this initiative will be the social well-being and cultural heritage that it will promote as one of Latvia’s environmental assets. The Latvian Fisheries Operational Program will have at the core the purpose of promoting environmentally sustainable, resource efficient, innovative, competitive and knowledge based fisheries and aquacultures, while fostering the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy and the Integrated maritime policy. Additionally, it will foster marketing and processing in fisheries, as well as the implementation of community-led local development strategies, like the Riga Central Market.
Aquaculture is one of the most important parts of the fisheries industry, although it is relatively new. Aquaculture, aquafarming, is the practice of farming specific aquatic animals like fish, crustaceans, mollusks and other aquatic plants. In aquaculture you can cultivate both freshwater and saltwater with their specific controlled conditions. Most of these farms in Latvia are located in the interior of the country, not anywhere near the coast or marine waters. In 2014 there were about 160 aquaculture farms registered by the Food and Veterinary Service, five of which are state-owned. The main species that are produced in these farms are trout, goldfish, carp, sturgeon, and catfish. Carp is the most produced fish with about an 80% in 2012, when the total summed up to 573.5 tons produced for consumption in the country. Moreover, fish are also produced with the purpose of compensating for the damage caused to fish by the development of hydropower plants on rivers, the pollution of water and the degradation of natural habitats. These fish are bred and released into natural water-bodies.
In 2015, Latvia for the first time was included in the annual analytical report presented by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on the state of fisheries and the aquaculture sector. They recognized that the Latvian fishery industry had increased trade opportunities and exposed the sector to the global trade because of their many efforts. In 2015, the herring and sprat account for almost 90% of the total production. Although the majority of fishers participate in the smaller fisheries, generating stable employment in this sector, there are also those who make part of the European Fisheries Fund where most of the international trade occurs. This is one of the sectors to look out for when considering the country’s goal to become member of the OECD in 2016. Latvia is a clear example of sustainable fishing, despite the concerning panorama in the OECD countries where there has been a decrease in 39% of fishing, mainly due to overfishing and poor practices. This same report also highlights what Latvian fisheries are doing when it comes to managing stocks and quotas, which again is serving as an example for other European countries. They have also banned gill nets in public inland waters, introduced limits on some fishing in inland waters and included measures that allow them to supervise Latvian nationals on vessels identified as such with the Latvian flag in international waters. Despite a set back in canned fish exports, because of a non-compliance to Russian health and safety requirements, the fishery and aquaculture industry seems to only be growing and becoming more stable and sustainable.