Sunday, 01 March 2015 00:00

Troubled waters for Estonian sprat

Political uncertainty is an obstacle to the smooth running of Estonia’s sprat and herring production. Still, the future looks bright with possibilities. We explore these developments from the point of view of the Estonian Fishing Association, the largest of the three Estonian producer organisations.

The fisheries sector in Estonia comprises marine and inland fisheries, freshwater aquaculture, and a processing industry. The marine fishery is further subdivided into the catches from the high seas, and the Baltic Sea. The former are sourced in the North-West Atlantic (NAFO), the North-East Atlantic (NEAFC), and Svalbard. The Baltic Sea fishery has two main components, a coastal fishery and an offshore pelagic fishery. In terms of volumes of fish caught, around two thirds of the total Estonian landings come from the Baltic Sea pelagic fishery, where the main species are Baltic herring and sprat. This is followed by the distant water landings, the coastal fishery in the Baltic Sea, and finally the inland fishery.

Estonian independence in 1991 led to the creation of a number of private companies in the fisheries sector. Among them was Pärnu Laht which started its operations processing the freshwater fish perch and pike-perch and selling the fillets to Western Europe. Since then the company has faced a number of ups and downs and today is working on the farmed production of perch.

The Hunt-Fish group has a track record selling perch fillets to buyers in the Swiss retail sector. At the end of last year the company together with perch fishermen invested in a processing facility to produce fresh perch fillets thereby removing two links in the value chain.

The Estonian Rural Development Foundation was established in 1993 with funds from various donors that became available when the country became independent. Today, the foundation is using these funds to implement programmes that support the economic development of rural Estonia.

Since last year Olavi Petron has had to deal with a series of critical issues in the fisheries sector with international repercussions. In January 2014 Russian veterinary authorities found that some Estonian fish processing factories did not comply with their standards and rescinded the plants’ export permits. In August sanctions imposed by the west on Russia sparked a ban on imports of certain fisheries products to Russia from the EU, which also affected Estonian processors. The ban is still in place and the Estonian authorities are using different strategies to assist the sector.

Fishermen from more than 30 regions of the country displayed their products at the first All-Russian Festival of Fishery Products in Moscow that lasted for seven days. Besides providing customers with fish products the purpose of the event was to create a nationwide brand Russian Fish. The Federal Agency for Fisheries initiated the development of the Russian Fish brand to promote domestic fish products on the home market.

Eurofish held a meeting with and Ilya Shestakov, Deputy Minister of Agriculture of the Russian Federation and head of the Federal Agency for Fisheries to discuss areas of cooperation both with the administration and the industry. Mr Shestakov also answered several questions about developments and priorities in the Russian fisheries and aquaculture sector and discussed some of the impacts of the sanctions and counter sanctions.

The Norwegian seafood sector had another dream year, the second in a row, in terms of its export performance in 2014. Overall, the country’s seafood exports at NOK68.8bn (≈EUR8.2bn) represented a 12% increase over 2013 and this despite the sudden closure (for political reasons) of their biggest market, Russia, in August last year.

The fisheries and aquaculture sector in Norway is an important and growing part of the country’s economy. Highly diversified in terms of types of production, species, products, and above all, markets, yet the sector still has the potential to increase its contribution to the economy several-fold. Steering this development is Elisabeth Aspaker, Minister of Fisheries, who outlines here some of the ways in which this growth will be realised.

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