December 2004


The main fishing areas of the Swedish fleet are the Baltic Sea and the Kattegat/Skagerrak (separating Sweden from Denmark). Although Sweden does not differentiate between inshore and offshore fishing activities, the fleet segments have differing capacities for adapting to changes in catch possibilities. The smaller boats usually fish from a local port, whereas the mobility of larger vessels enables them to move between fishing grounds and ports and to land abroad. This segment (the pelagic fleet with vessels >20 m) has shown very good profitability in recent years.

The following table gives an indication of the geographical importance of the main coastal areas of Sweden. It should be stressed that a large proportion of the catch is landed directly in other jurisdictions, especially that intended for reduction to fishmeal and fish oil, where 143,932 tonnes of the 181,807 tonnes landed in 2003 was landed overseas.

 There are a large number of landing sites in Sweden. The most important are the harbours of Träslövsläge, Göteborg, Ängholmen, Smögen, and Strömstad on the west coast; and Trelleborg, Simrishamn, Karlskrona, Nogersund, Västervik, and Oxelösund in the Baltic. Several Danish harbours, such as Skagen and Hanstholm, are also important for landing Swedish catches. For freshwater fisheries, the harbour of Spiken in Lake Vänern is most important.


Professional fisheries in Sweden include marine (offshore and inshore), inland, and aquaculture. In 2001 the Swedish national fishing fleet consisted of 1,859 vessels with a total GT of 47,000. The Swedish fishing fleet operates within an area stretching from the northeast Atlantic to the northern Gulf of Bothnia. Aquaculture employed around 430 people in 2001 and the majority of production was of rainbow trout.

Sweden has a large number of inland waters, with around 90,000 lakes over 1 hectare, and 300,000 km of watercourses, providing significant potential for inland fisheries. Four major lakes in the south of Sweden account for the majority of the freshwater catch: these are lakes Vänern, Hjälmaren, Mälaren and Vättern.

The National Board of Fisheries (NBF) handles the management of commercial fishing in Sweden. In addition, the Swedish Fishermen’s Federation can impose supplementary regulations for its members. Fishing for deep-water prawns in the North Sea and the Skagerrak is one example of this voluntary regulation.

The Lapp population in northern Sweden have special aboriginal fishing rights in the areas allocated to their profession of reindeer breeding.


The main objective of fisheries policy in Sweden is to promote sustainable and responsible management of fisheries. In its national strategy for sustainable development (2002) Sweden states that fisheries need to be put on a sustainable footing by applying the precautionary principle, adopting an ecosystem approach and securing biological diversity.

For most fisheries there are national quotas, and technical restrictions relating to, for example, fishing technique, geographical areas, fishing seasons, maximum landings per vessel and week, minimum landing sizes or limits on by-catches. Vessels used in commercial fishing have to be licensed and at least one fisherman per vessel must hold a personal fishing license.

Swedish fisheries policy and management come under the umbrella of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) of the EU. The primary aim of the CFP’s fisheries management policy is to ensure exploitation of living aquatic resources that provides sustainable economic, environmental and social conditions. To this end, the precautionary principle is to be applied, and management should be moving towards adoption of an ecosystem-based approach. Management is based on regulating the quantities of fish caught, through a system of Total Allowable Catches (TACs), complemented by technical conservation measures. Effort restrictions are also being increasingly used as well in recovery stocks.

Apart from the resource management policy, the CFP is comprised of three key strands: structural policy, market policy and international agreements. Structural policy is aimed at improving the balance between catching capacity and available resources by limiting fishing effort, and to support diversification within and outside the sector. Opportunities to fish in third country waters are also secured through the CFP.

In 2004, The National Board on Fisheries published the report ‘Fish, Fisheries and Environment, the National Board on Fisheries work towards its environmental objectives 2001-2004’. The report presents a number of aims to protect the sea, coast and archipelago. These include:

  • protection of 17 bays for pike and perch in the Stockholm archipelago as from spring 2004;

  • inventory and protective actions in preparation for research on the west coast of Sweden, including adjustments of the trawler border;

  • measures for vulnerable marine species, including red listing, catch bans and national administration programs for eel and porpoise;

  • reduction of bycatch: adaptation of withdrawal of fish, modification of the trawler boarder in Skagerrak and Kattegat and prohibition of fisheries during certain times of the year; and

  • inventories of marine life in the Stockholm archipelago to estimate the impact of disturbing boat traffic.

Adjustment of fishing capacity

Fishing fleet over-capacity in the EU remains high despite previous fleet policy programmes (so-called Multi-Annual Guidance Programmes) aimed at bringing capacity down, the issue has yet to be adequately addressed. There is a EU requirement to balance fleets with available resources, and responsibility for meeting this objective rests with the EU Member States.

Fleet adjustment is based on national reference levels that limit overall capacity, in combination with effort limitations introduced for some regions and under recovery plans, restrictions in aid for vessels modernisation, and economic incentives to decommission vessels. When capacity is removed with public aid, the reference level is reduced accordingly. Member States choosing to provide aid for new-builds will also see their reference level reduced by a one-off three per cent. There is an entry/exit ratio for the introduction of new vessels of one to one, with exits supported by public aid not being allowed to be replaced. For new vessels over 100 GT built with public aid, the entry/exit ratio is 1 to 1.35 to counter so-called technological creep. There is some scope to increase tonnage levels if this relates to modernisation above the main deck, as long as this does not increase the catching ability of the vessel.

In 2001 the NBF decided that vessel owners entering pelagic capacity have to withdraw at least 30 per cent more capacity in kW and GT than is taken into the fleet. Before this, the entry/exit ratio was 1:1 for pelagic vessels.

Total Allowable Catches (TACs)

Total Allowable Catches (TACs) are a key element of fisheries management in Sweden. For a number of key commercial stocks, the EU Member States agree TACs each December. TACs place an overall limit on the weight of fish that fishermen may land. TAC proposals are drawn up by the European Commission, reflecting scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) on appropriate levels of catches if stocks are to be maintained. Once the TACs are agreed they are divided between Member States according to a system of 'relative stability' under which each receives a national quota for individual stocks.

The National Board of Fisheries (NBF) regularly revises regulations for cod fishing in the Baltic Sea, specifying maximum landings per week differentiated according to length and tonnage of the vessel. In 2004, the limits included banning cod fishing in the Baltic Sea from 16 June – 15 August and prohibiting the landing of any cod bycatch obtained when fishing for other species. Quotas for cod in the Baltic sea with respect to the capacity (dräktighet) of the vessel were modified throughout the year with the lowest levels set in April and May 2004.

The NBF has also limited the fishing period (days per week) for vessels longer than 24 metres fishing herring and sprat in the Baltic Sea. In 2004, the fishing of herring and sprat was banned for vessels longer than 24 metres for several periods during the year, both in the Baltic Sea and in the Skagerrak/Kattegat. When fishing was allowed, a minimum mesh size of 32 mm was required. Vessels used for catching herring or sprat were not allowed to be used for catching other species under quota regulation at the same time. The new regulation replaced a similar voluntary rationing system managed by the fishermen’s federation.

In 2002, the Swedish Government appointed a sea commission, which presented a programme of actions for the Baltic Sea and the ‘vasterhavet’ in 2003. The Swedish Government also works in collaboration with the other countries around the Baltic Sea (the Helsinki Commission) for the protection of the Baltic Sea.

Technical conservation measures

Technical conservation measures provide a second key management tool. The measures include setting minimum landing sizes for different species; requiring the use of specific mesh sizes; in some circumstances, obliging the use of separator/selective devices; putting restrictions on what fishing gear can be used; and, closing some areas to certain types of fishing, permanently or some times of year. Although most measures are designed in order to protect juvenile or spawning stocks, some are also aimed at reducing impacts on non-target species and habitats. Most measures are adopted at the EU level, with some supplementary measures adopted by Sweden, particularly concerning the inshore fishery.

Management plans

According to the CFP, EU recovery plans should be developed for already overfished stocks and management plans for other stocks. Limitation of fishing effort within the plans is subject to case-by-case scrutiny. Plans are also required to take interactions between different stocks and fisheries into account, and may include targets related to other species or the wider marine environment. Plans are supposed to include so-called pre-determined harvesting rules, as a means of introducing a longer-term perspective within fisheries management. Currently, recovery plans are in place for cod stocks and northern hake. Amongst other cod stocks, the cod recovery plan covers the North Sea,Skagerrak and eastern Channel stock, so affecting the Swedish cod fishery. Further recovery and management plans are under development.

Stock enhancement

In addition to management restrictions, extensive fish stocking operations are employed to assist in rehabilitating and maintaining fisheries. A significant number of sea trout and salmon fry are regularly released in rivers running into the Baltic.

Decision making and co-management

The Koster fjord, a traditional fishing area in the northern part of Skagerrak, has been designated as a special area of conservation by the Swedish government. The area is part of the European protected sites network ‘Natura 2000’. In order to protect the seabed and reduce discards, the Swedish government has implemented new regulations prohibiting trawling in some areas and the use of some types of gear. The regulation was formally decided by the NBF but it was based on a proposal from a working group of fishermen and representatives from local authorities, the county board administration and NBF.

Another model for decision-making and co-management is being tried in the commercial vendace fishery in the northern part of the Gulf of Bothnia. The stock is vulnerable, and the NBF called for additional conservation measures for it in 2000. It was decided to let the fishermen involved in this fishery decide on complementary management measures as an alternative to new regulations from the NBF. The fishermen were supported in management by the NBF which was monitoring the fishery.

Monitoring and enforcement

In 2000, a system of prenotification of landings of unsorted pelagic fish was introduced in Sweden. The coastguard must be notified at least four hours before landing. Stricter rules concerning notification were also introduced for certain fisheries areas. In 2000 and 2001 vessels fishing for mackerel were required to report catches exceeding one tonne within two hours after each fishing effort, and to check that the fishery was still allowed before making a new effort. The same system was applied in the herring fishery in the North Sea in 2001.


The National Board of Fisheries is the central government authority for fisheries conservation and fisheries in Sweden. It was established in 1948 and falls under the Swedish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries and is headed by a Director General who also chairs the Board of Directors. The NBF promotes the responsible use of fish resources so that they will provide sustainable yields. It is responsible for furthering biological diversity and abundant, diverse fish stocks as a part of its sector responsibility for the environment. The NBF contributes to improved opportunities for a viable fishing industry, increasing fishing possibilities for the public and promoting accessibility to high quality fish.

The NBF is organized in five departments:

  • Department of Marine Resources (responsible for regulating the Swedish sea fishery, participates in international negotiations on catch quotas and fisheries regulations, includes some marine research capacity);

  • Department of Coastal and Freshwater Resources (responsible for the use of fish resources in coastal and freshwater areas, promotes small-scale coastal fishery and recreational fishing, includes freshwater research capacity, stock monitoring, and work to reduce impacts from seals and cormorants);

  • Department of Markets and Structures (responsible for aquaculture, eco-labelling, professional fishing licenses, vessel permits and long-term issues such as recruitment to the fishing sector);

  • Department of Fisheries Control (responsible for quota control and controlling catches and landings of fish, produces official fisheries statistics for Sweden); and
  • Department of Administration.

Role of public and private sector

Sweden is one of the Nordic Countries, and is a Constitutional Monarchy with the Nordic tradition of a privately owned production sector and a very large public sector supplying public goods, services and infrastructure.

From this follows that fishing vessels are privately owned and run, but certain services and infrastructure (port facilities) are public. The aquaculture, processing, wholesale, export and service facilities are all privately owned, but thoroughly regulated to counteract externalities such as health hazards to consumers and employees, environmental degradation, tax evasion, etc.

Structural changes are often aided by public subsidies, and education and other labour marked services facilitate structural adjustment.


Swedish fisheries systems and policies sit within the context of both regional and international fisheries agreements. The overarching international framework is provided by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982), FAO Conference Resolution 15/93 and the UN agreement of 1995 (Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks). While the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries 4/95 has no legal force it does have political implications for the management systems.

The long-term strategy for development in the Baltic region generally is laid down internationally in the Baltic 21 agreement. The Baltic 21 agreement was adopted by eleven Baltic states and the European Commission in 1998. The primary objective is to implement sustainable development in a range of areas. In the fisheries sector, the objectives are in the form of long-term strategies for major fish stocks (cod, salmon, herring and sprat), restoration of habitats important to fish and fisheries in inland waters and achieving sustainable aquaculture.

As noted, Swedish fisheries policy and management come under the umbrella of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) of the EU. Key EU legislation includes:

  • Council Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002 on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy;

  • Council Regulation (EC) No 850/98 for the conservation of fishery resources through technical measures for the protection of juveniles of marine organisms (as amended);and

  • Council Regulation (EC) No 2369/2002 amending Regulation (EC) No 2792/1999 laying down the detailed rules and arrangements regarding Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector.

The main fisheries legislation in Sweden is:

  • The Environmental Code/Miljöbalk (1998:808) on sustainable development with respect to the environment, including general rules for sea and coast, shore protection (7kap 13-18§§) and hydraulic operations, building in water and water regulations (11kap).

  • Fisheries law/Fiskelag (1993:787) on rights to fisheries, including fisheries within Sweden’s sea territory and Sweden’s economical zone.
  • FIFS (Fiskeriverkets författningssamling): regulations from the National Board of Fisheries, appointed by the Swedish Government to implement fisheries policy in Sweden.
National and Regional Management

Sweden joined the EU on 1 January 1995. Fisheries management has thus been under the framework of the EU Common Fisheries Policy since then. Bilateral agreements are negotiated by the EU between the EU Member States and other nations, especially Norway. Within the CFP framework there are nationally adopted measures, eg while salmon quotas are set at an EU level, Member States determine where and when salmon can be caught. While the CFP applies most directly to marine fisheries, structural grants are given to the lake regions.

In principle, all waters around the Swedish coast and in the lakes are privately owned up to 300m from the shoreline. Fishermen must get the owner’s consent in order to fish in private waters. Many private water owners have, with state support, created fishing areas with uniform fishing rules and marketing of recreational fishing opportunities for the public.

The NBF has sole responsibility for regulating freshwater fisheries, including fisheries in the great lakes, and for certain fisheries along the Swedish coastline (salmon and sea trout in the Baltic, and lobster in the Kattegat-Skagerrak). Monitoring and enforcement activities are joint responsibilities of the NBF and the coastguard.

Commercial fishing requires an individual licence. The NBF grants these licences taking into consideration the availability of fish and the professional skills of the applicants. Unless proscribed by CFP or NBF regulations, a fisher in possession of such a licence is free to use any legally approved type of gear, and in any amount. Persons not in possession of such a licence, except when fishing in waters under their own private control, are restricted in the amount and type of equipment they can use. In principle, all water within 300 m of the coast and islands is private property. Fish harvested from private waters can be sold freely.

There is a scheme for labelling of fish that has been farmed ecologically in Sweden called KRAV. Since 2001 KRAV has been engaged in a project to develop standards, inspection and certification for sustainable fisheries in Scandinavian waters. Consultation on the standards was carried out in late 2003. In 2004 there were three producers and six fish products that were accredited KRAV producers.

International co-operation in the region

Extensive international cooperation exists in the region for both fisheries and environmental questions related to the marine environment. Sweden is, for example, a member of the European Union, the North Sea Council of Ministers, the Nordic Council, ICES (including European Inland Fisheries Advisory Commission (EIFAC)), and a pro-active member of UN organizations.


The main targeted commercial fish species are fully utilized in Swedish fisheries, but there is some potential for a bigger – and consequently more profitable – cod stock in the Baltic Sea. This would first depend on improved management and better catch reporting, but may be hampered by environmental degradation such as poor water quality and eutrophication and depend upon the influx of salt water from the North Sea basin, which is necessary for hatching of cod larvae in the Baltic Sea.

Changes in supply and demand in the next 25 years are likely to stem primarily from changes in trade. Both import and re-export have increased considerably during the past years, mainly due to Sweden entering the EU.

Management and food safety rules are likely to affect supply and demand. New rules governing the highest allowable level of dioxin in food entered into force on 1 July 2002. Sweden has an exemption from these rules relating to fish sold for human consumption in Sweden and Finland until the end of 2006. A recent piece of EU legislation for the purposes of reducing harbour porpoise bycatch will also reduce the salmon driftnet fishery over the coming years as nets over 2.5km in length are phased out.


Directorate of Fisheries

Statistics Sweden

EU Fisheries Directorate General

Earthtrends – Environmental Information Portal of the World Resources Institute

Sweden’s strategy for sustainable development (2002)

KRAV ecological labelling