April 2005


The territory of the Republic of Estonia, the northernmost of the three Baltic countries, covers 45 227 km2, including the two large islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa. It has approximately 3 780 km of coastline, and its maritime neighbours are Finland to the north, Sweden to the west across the Baltic Sea, and Latvia to the south. Its eastern land border is with the Russian Federation. Hydrogeographically, Estonia lies entirely within the Baltic Sea catchment. Most of its 420 rivers are short; the longest is the Pärnu River (144 km). Lakes are generally small, except for Lake Peipsi, on the eastern border, which is the fifth-largest lake in Europe.


Management of fisheries matters in Estonia as of March 2001 is shared by two ministries: the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Fish Resources Department, Ministry of the Environment, was established in 2001 to replace the Fisheries Board and the Fisheries Department. It manages and coordinates research, assessment, exploitation, restocking and protection of fish resources.

The Fishing Industry Department, Ministry of Agriculture, deals with issues of aquaculture, fish production, processing and marketing of fish and fishery products, and fisheries-related structural policy.

Fishery Resources Department, Ministry of the Environment

The position of the Fishery Resources Department within the Ministry of the Environment can be seen from the organizational structure of the ministry (Figure 1).

The Fisheries Department shapes national fisheries policy to meet the provisions of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The main activities of the Fisheries Department are to:

  • develop proposals to amend the Fishing Act and the related secondary legislation;
  • develop international fisheries cooperation;
  • secure funds for scientific research into fishery resources;
  • restock fishery resources as necessary;
  • supervise the control and monitoring of the use of fishery resources;  and
  • issue fishing permits.

Figure 1.  Organizational structure of the Ministry of Environment

Figure 2.
  Organizational structure of the Ministry of Agriculture

Fisheries Economics Department, Ministry of Agriculture

The main function of the Fisheries Economics Department of the Ministry of Agriculture is to develop and implement fisheries policy for the fishing and fish processing industries and to increase the competitiveness of those industries. The position of the Department within the Ministry of Agriculture can be seen from the organizational overview shown in Figure 1.

The Fisheries Economics Department is responsible for implementing the tasks of identified within Priority 3 – Agriculture, Fishery and Rural Development – in the National Development Plan of Estonia for the Implementation of the Structural Funds of the European Union – the Single Programming Document 2004–2006 and the tasks of the intermediate body at Measure level as provided by this Priority.


Broad Objectives and Governmental Strategy

An Act on Sustainable Development was passed by the Estonian Parliament in 1995, and amended in 1997.

In 1996, an Expert Commission for Sustainable Development was established at governmental level by a government decision. The Commission advises the government concerning issues of sustainable development, including the sustainable use of fishery resources. The Commission is chaired by the Prime Minister, the co-chairs being the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Economy. 

The environmental policy of the Republic of Estonia is implemented through executive action programmes, following elaboration of environmental strategy. Development programmes are elaborated and directed by the government and accepted by the public, and take into account the needs of future generations without compromising the main requirements of the present generation. This means that environmental limitations have to be considered in economic activities, including the development of the fishery industry.

The principles of Estonia’s environmental policy are included in a number of legislative acts on environmental management and sustainable use of natural resources, including fishery resources. These include the Act on Nature Conservation; Act on Protected Natural Objects; Act on the Protection of Marine and Freshwater Coasts, Shores and Banks; Act on Pollution Charges; Water Act; Fishing Act; and Act on Sustainable Development.

According to Estonia’s National Development Plan for the Implementation of the EU Structural Funds (2003–2006), a number of important economic and social measures will be implemented, such as regulation of the fishing capacity of the fishing fleet, modernization and renewal of the fishing fleet, investment support measures for the fisheries production chain, and some other fisheries-related measures.

Main Fishery-Related Regulations

The purpose of the Fishing Act (1996) is to ensure the sustainable use of fishery and aquatic plant resources, respecting the principle of responsible fisheries. This Act also regulates fishing by vessels flying the Estonian flag and fishing in waters beyond the jurisdiction of the Republic of Estonia insofar as the legislation of the state where fishing is carried out or an international agreement regulating fishing in the fishing area do not provide otherwise.

The Act requires that in fishing and collecting aquatic plants, the reproductive capacity of the stocks and the productivity of bodies of water shall be preserved and undesirable changes to the ecosystem of bodies of water shall be avoided.

Supervision of fishing in waters outside the territorial jurisdiction of the Republic of Estonia is covered by the provisions of the Environmental Supervision Act (1997).  Supervision over fulfilment of the requirements of legislation regulating fishing and the conditions designated in a fishing permit, even in waters outside the direct jurisdiction of the Republic of Estonia, are exercised by the Ministry of the Environment.

The procedure for fishing on all water bodies and the procedure for collecting aquatic plants are established by the Government of the Republic in the form of the Fishing Rules, which determine:

  • closed seasons for fishing, and prohibited areas;
  • minimum fish sizes and the conditions for by-catch;
  • restrictions on and requirements for fishing gear and methods;
  • fishing gear types and specifications;
  • requirements for marking fishing gear; and
  • the method for calculating the proportion of Baltic herring and sprat in trawl catch.
The Food Act (2000) provides the basis for the handling of food and raw material for food for marketing purposes, the self-checking of a food business operator, and state supervision in order to ensure food safety and the conformity of food to other requirements. Raw material for food and initial processing thereof includes also any natural product which is acquired by fishing.

Fishing Rights

Fishing is performed pursuant to fishing rights. Depending on the fishing gear used, a difference is made between line fishing, the catching of crayfish, recreational fishing and commercial fishing. Everyone may exercise fishing rights if he or she has satisfied the requirements for acquiring such rights. Fishing rights are either free of charge or subject to a fee.

The right of ownership of a fish is created for the person who captures the fish unless this is in conflict with the Fishing Act or violates the rights of other persons. A fish is ownerless if it is free in nature. Seaweed in the sea is in the ownership of the state; seaweed washed ashore becomes the property of the owner of the beach it is washed up on. The right of ownership of a body of water is provided by the Water Act (1994).

Line fishing

Every citizen has an automatic right to fish by line. Everyone may fish, free of charge and without requiring a permit, with one simple hand line on a body of water belonging to the state or a local government, or on a privately owned body of water that is designated for public use, taking into consideration restrictions concerning permitted fishing seasons, fishing areas and species of fish.

With the permission of the owner, fishing with one simple hand line is permitted on a privately owned body of water that is not designated as for public use; on an area that is flooded by an internal water body; and from sunset to sunrise on a privately owned body of water designated for public use.

Recreational fishing

On the basis of a document certifying recreational fishing rights, anyone may fish using fishing tackle on a body of water belonging to the state or a local government or on a privately owned body of water designated for public use, taking into consideration the restrictions established by and on the basis of Fishing Act.

The right to fish for recreation shall be granted on the basis of a fishing card or a document certifying payment for the right to fish for recreation for up to one calendar year. The Minister of the Environment has the right to designate areas where limitations apply on the number of rods, and to restrict fishing gear, fishing seasons or allowed species, with the aim of conserving fishery resources. In these areas, a fishing card grants the right to fish for recreation.

Crayfish fishery

Restrictions apply to crayfish fishery. The right to catch crayfish is granted by a specific permit, which is issued by the environmental service of the corresponding catching area. The only permitted gear for catching crayfish are dip-nets and traps. A permit for the catching of crayfish shall set out the permitted gear, the size or number thereof, and the maximum catch limit.

Commercial fishing

A person who is registered in the commercial register as an undertaking and whose area of activity entered in the commercial register is fishing may fish with commercial fishing gear on the basis of a fishing permit on internal water bodies, on transboundary water bodies, at sea, in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Republic of Estonia, or outside national waters under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Estonia.

Commercial fishing gear means longlines, gillnets and entangling nets, traps, seine nets and trawls. The right to fish commercially is granted by a fishing permit, which may be either the fishing permit of a fishing vessel or a fisherman’s fishing permit.

Fishing right fee

The right to fish commercially is subject to a fee. The fee for each calendar year is determined by the Government of the Republic, based on the special characteristics of the fishing grounds, the type of fishing gear and its fishing capacity, or the fishing opportunities to be allocated on the basis of an international agreement. The right to fish for recreation and the right to catch crayfish are also subject to a fee.

The right to fish commercially at sea outside the Baltic Sea shall not be subject to a fee if the fishing opportunities there are not guaranteed by the Republic of Estonia. In such a case, the person who obtains the fishing right shall pay the expenses related to the presence of an environmental inspector on board of the vessel or shall ensure the presence, pursuant to the requirements, of an observer from another state if required by the legislation regulating fishing in the fishing area.


Fishing Vessels

According to Fishing Act, a fishing vessel is a vessel equipped with gear prescribed for the commercial use of fishery resources.

The Government of the Republic of Estonia has established a state register of fishing vessels, with vessels are grouped into fishing fleet segments according to their overall length, fishing grounds, the fishing gear used and the species of fish caught. The size of a segment of fishing fleet is calculated on the basis of its fishing capacity.

A fishing license shall be issued to a fishing vessel entered in the state register of fishing vessels.

Fishing Fleet Capacity Regulation

For fishing fleet segments that are considered to be at full capacity, no additional vessel may be registered in that sector unless an equivalent fishing capacity is removed (de-registered) from that sector.

A person removing a fishing vessel from a segment has the preferential right to enter a replacement vessel of equal or smaller capacity. If the removing agent does not wish to use the capacity thus freed, the right may be assigned to another agent, or the released capacity may be offered to others. No vessel can entered in the state register of fishing vessels to replace the fishing capacity of a fishing vessel that receives with public aid to permanently withdraw from fishing.

Fishing Permits for Fishing Vessel

The fishing permit of a fishing vessel grants the right to fish with commercial fishing gear at sea to the limit of the EEZ of the Republic of Estonia, outside the waters under the jurisdiction of the Republic of Estonia if the state guarantees the right to fish there, or on the open sea. The fishing permit of a fishing vessel may be issued to an undertaking registered in the commercial register regarding a fishing vessel in the legal possession thereof for which an Estonian certificate of a sea-going vessel or inland vessel or small craft and a fishing licence have been issued.


Fisher’s Fishing Permit

A fisher’s fishing permit grants the right to fish, except fishing for flounder, with commercial fishing gear at sea up to the 20-metre isobath, on Lake Peipus, Lake Lämmijärv and Lake Pskov, on Narva River and the Narva reservoir, or on an internal water body. A fisher’s fishing permit for the fishing of flounder grants the right to fish flounder at sea, irrespective of the depth of the sea. According to the Fishing Act, a fisher is a natural person who catches fish themselves with commercial fishing gear. The number of persons accompanying a fisher who is fishing is not limited. A fisher’s fishing permit shall be issued to an undertaking registered in the commercial register. 

Issue of Commercial Fishing Permit

Commercial fishing permits are issued within the limits of the permitted annual quota allocation, number of fishing days, amount of fishing gear or number of fishing vessels (hereinafter fishing opportunities) for a specified term, but for not longer than one calendar year. An application for a commercial fishing permit shall be submitted not later than by 1 December of the year preceding the year for which the permit is requested. The Minister of the Environment may, with good reason, extend the term for submission of applications.  

First Buyer of Fish

The first buyer of fish is an undertaking registered in the commercial register whose food business or a part thereof engaged in the first buy of fish is approved pursuant to the Food Act (1999) and who does not have punishments in force for violation of the requirements for the purchase or sale of fish. The Ministry of the Environment collects information concerning first buyers in accordance with the Personal Data Protection Act (2003) and the Databases Act (1997).


The provisions of the General Part of the Penal Code (2001) and of the Code of Misdemeanour Procedure (2002) apply to misdemeanours defined in the Fishery Act. Extra-judicial proceedings concerning misdemeanours under the Fishery Act shall be conducted by a police prefecture, the Border Guard Administration and the Environmental Inspectorate.


Before 2001, the Government of Estonia operated an individual, not tradable, quota system based on historical catch records. An individual tradable quota system was introduced in Estonia in 2001–2002. That system was based on used quota track records (actual catches). In addition, 10 percent of the total national quota was sold by annual auction.

As of January 2003, the fishery quota auctions have been terminated, with exceptions for new, previously unexploited resources, provided that the fisher’s applications volume exceeds the resource available. Auctions might be used if necessary during change periods, such as in a shift from TAC regulation to effort regulation.

The market for Estonian fishing rights based on the last three years of actual catches was very dynamic up to the end of 2003. Currently, the next year’s quota is based on the last three year’s fishing quota obtained by fishers and the market for fishing rights market is much more stable.


The Estonian fishery sector includes distant fishing in the northern Atlantic, fishing in the Baltic Sea and fishing in inland waters. Annual fishing opportunities for Estonia for 2005 are determined by Council Regulation (EC) No 27/2005 of 22 December 2004, fixing for 2005 the fishing opportunities and associated conditions for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable in Community waters and, for Community vessels, in waters where catch limitations are required. 

Accordingly, the Estonian distant-water fishing opportunities in the NAFO Regulatory Area for 2005 are: Northern Prawn, 144 t; Atlantic redfish, 1 571 t; Greenland halibut, 380 t; Short fin squid, 128 t; and Rays and skates, 546 t.

In addition, 1 667 fishing days are available for Northern Prawn fishery in 2005.

Estonian fishing opportunities in the NEAFC Regulatory Area for 2005 include: Atlantic redfish, 344 t; and other fish, 220 t.

Estonia has 377 fishing days for Northern Prawn fishery in the Svalbard Regulatory Area.

Estonian Baltic fishing opportunities for internationally regulated fishery resources in the IBSFC Regulatory Area in 2005 are: herring, 29 614 t (13 218 t in ICES Sub-divisions 25–29 (excluding the Gulf of Riga) and 32; and 16 396 t in ICES Sub-Division 28-1 (Gulf of Riga)); sprat, 56 650 t in ICES Sub-divisions 22–32; cod, 1 112 t (239 t in ICES Sub-divisions 22–24; and 873 t in ICES Sub-divisions 25–32); and salmon, 11 085 individual fish (9 504 in the Baltic proper (excluding the Gulf of Finland); and 1 581 in the Gulf of Finland).


Lake Peipsi (in Russian – Chudskoye Lake) and the Narva River are transboundary waterbodies, the use and protection of which is regulated by international treaties and goodwill.  The Lake Peipsi and Narva River basins are managed according to the Estonian-Russian Agreement on Lake Peipsi fisheries, the Agreement on Estonian-Russian fisheries relations, the Estonian-Russian Agreement on the protection and sustainable use of transboundary water bodies, and the Estonian-Russian Agreement on environmental protection. Four intergovernmental Estonian-Russian commissions ensure enforcement of the agreements and operate as conflict-prevention and conflict-resolution mechanisms: the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade; the Transboundary Water Commission; the Fisheries Commission; and the Environmental Protection Commission.

Lake Peipsi has a very rich aquatic fauna, with 37 fish species, and thus it is considered one of the best large fishing lakes in Europe. Usually, Peipsi yields about 7 000 t of fish per year: half of this is caught by Estonian fishers and the rest by Russian commercial and recreational fishers. The Estonian Lake Peipsi quota for 2005 totals 4 125 t of fish.

The main commercial species are smelt, perch, pike-perch, roach, bream, ruffe, pike, vendace, whitefish and burbot. Recreational fishery on Lake Peipsi takes place mainly in winter (angling for perch and whitefish). In spite of the fact that the annual total Estonian and Russian commercial landings are worth equal € 8 million, research indicates that recreational fishing could be more valuable more than professional fishery. The income comes from the purchase of relatively inexpensive fishing licenses, renting accommodation, and using catering and other services.

The success of the two states in sustainable use of the fish resources in the lake can  attributed to limiting the types of gear and their number, agreement on minimum fish size, and on percentage of by-catch. Thus trawl fishing (except for smelt by Russia) was prohibited in 1958, and the number of Danish seines was reduced to 40 (20 each side) in 1974. Scientific advice-based fisheries management has secured a stable and sustainable internationally regulated freshwater fishery of great value. 


All major Estonian fisheries – distant water, Baltic and freshwater fisheries – are managed by international fisheries organizations (NAFO) and commissions (NEAFC; IBSFC; Estonian-Russian Intergovernmental Lake Peipsi Fisheries Commission). National quota allocation and conservation measures are based on the best scientific advice available, provided by NAFO Scientific Council, ICES, and the Lake Peipsi Estonian-Russian Fisheries Commission’s Scientific Fisheries Working Group.

The main fishery management measures implemented in Estonia are:

  • technical measures, including mesh size control, closed seasons and closed areas according to Council Regulation  (EC) No 27/2005 of 22 December 2004 and national Fishery Rules;
  • input controls, namely number of fishing days for NAFO and the Svalbard regulatory area for shrimp fishery;
  • output controls, namely TAC limits for internationally regulated fish stocks, and transferable quotas according to the provisions of Estonian Fishing Act; and
  • economic incentives – fishing right fees.

Stakeholder Participation

The Estonian Fishermen’s Association, Estonian Sport Fishermen Federation and Estonian Fishery Association (fish processors mainly) are actively involved in the co-management process (discussions on fishery management measures, amendment of laws and fishery rules, discussions on structural measures, the application of structural funds, etc.).


According to the Estonian Statistical Office, annual investments in the fishery sector fluctuated from about €2 million to €6 million in the period 1996–2002. In parallel, Estonian benefits from EU structural subsidies are still at an early stage.


It is expected that the commercial stocks exploited and their total catches will fluctuate close to long-term mean values. It would be reasonable to expect continued high demand for Estonian distant-water catches (Northern Prawn, Atlantic redfish, Greenland halibut) and for freshwater catches (pike-perch, perch, pike). At the same time, demand for the Baltic salmon may decrease because of possible dioxin problems, and for Baltic herring and Baltic sprat the demand for human consumption may decrease and demand for reduction may increase. The demand for Baltic cod will remain high, but landings will increase only after improvement in natural spawning conditions.

List of Estonian main fish landing places

There are numerous fish landing places in Estonia. The most important marine landing places for Baltic herring and sprat are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Main landing places for herring and sprat in Estonia in 2004


Landings (kg)





129 900

568 740

698 640


713 937

4 431 020

5 144 957


156 220

121 560

277 780


1 500

4 700

6 200


25 400

142 840

168 240


153 050

263 100

416 150


586 270

2 840 350

3 426 620


58 564

255 829

314 393


1 043 710

4 845 320

5 889 030


2 440 830

3 126 190

5 567 020


255 305

763 365

1 018 670


11 870

1 900

13 770


5 800

64 300

70 100


1 380


1 480


163 750

52 800

216 550


5 350

10 435

15 785


1 208 200

363 410

1 571 610


41 070

6 100

47 170


38 860

105 960

144 820


55 562

581 628

637 190


6 608 350

810 910

7 419 260



2 350

3 245


120 650

523 950

644 600


94 200

134 135

228 335


14 734

49 785

64 519


233 330

16 200

249 530


2 530

17 450

19 980


64 500

64 500


2 000 280

7 575 820

957 6100


1 851 970

273 390

2 125 360


75 245

166 180

241 425


33 000

2 600

35 600


18 131 712

28 186 917

46 318 629