Aquaculture in Estonia reached its peak in 1989 with a production level of 1 743 tonnes of fish for consumption. Collapse of the socialist economy in 1991 caused a decline in fish farming. Trout, carp and eel are the major species produced. Trout is reared in flow through ponds, tanks or raceways on river or spring water, or in net cages in brackishwater. Carp is produced in earthen ponds. Eel is cultivated in one recirculation system. According to official incomplete data 304 tonnes of rainbow trout, 51 tonnes of common carp and 15 tonnes of eel were produced in 2003. The real amount was 500 tonnes. A negligible amount of reared noble crayfish (Astacus astacus ) and Siberian sturgeon was produced (below 1 tonne). The total value of farmed fish production was officially approximately 1.4 million USD in 2003. Other branches of aquaculture are the state financed rearing of juvenile fish for restocking the natural waters and put-and-take fishery for trout. Approximately 100 people are employed in aquaculture. Fisheries and aquaculture administration is divided between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment. The Estonian Fish Farmers Association was established in 1989. The Department of Aquaculture of the Estonian University of Life Sciences is the only institution which specializes in aquaculture research and education. Practically all the trout is sold on the domestic market. All the market size eel is exported. The prospects for expanding aquaculture are good as domestic and neighbouring markets lack fresh, high quality aquaculture products and there is plenty of good quality water and space to establish new and enlarge existing fish farms. Because of the relatively good state of the environment and low pollution levels of aquaculture, opposition from environmentalists is still small. Adding value through processing and increasing product quality can help to broaden the market and increase profitability. The introduction of new species (catfish, charr, pike-perch, coregonids, ornamental fish) may expand marketing possibilities. However, there are two limiting factors: the small production and unstable supply of aquaculture products have not attracted investors and lack of investment has prevented the establishment of new fish farms.
Fish farming in Estonia was established at the end of the nineteenth century by German landowners. They introduced common carp and rainbow trout. During the Soviet period (1944–1991) aquaculture production reached its peak in 1989 at a level of 1 743 tonnes of fish for consumption (Tohvert, Paaver, 1999). In the Soviet period several alien species (sturgeons, salmonids, coregonids, cyprinids) were introduced and reared on fish farms or released into the natural waters, but none of them became important or established local populations. There were over 40 fish farms in Estonia and many agricultural enterprises also cultivated fish in small ponds and water reservoirs. The large red-fleshed rainbow trout was the main product (700–800 tonnes per year). Carp was traditionally cultivated in earthen ponds where yields could be over 1 tonne/ha. Because of the northern latitude of Estonia and the short period of vegetation (3–4 months), water temperature is a limiting factor in fish farming. Market sized trout and carp can be produced in three summer long cycles. Heated industrial waters of electric power plants were successfully used to prolong the growing period of fish. When production was at its peak, more than half of the fish produced came from the fish farms using heated industrial effluent waters. At the beginning of the 1990s the proportion of carp produced in the heated waters reached 85 percent of total production. The collapse of the socialist economy in 1991 caused a decline in fish farming production because of the loss of the Russian market and because of fast rise of production costs (fuel, fish feeds) and fluctuations of market price of foodstuffs (including fish) on the domestic market. Production decreased because the large production units utilizing heated waters from electric power stations were gradually closed down. In the official statistics of the early 1990s the production of these fish farms is not always indicated, which gives a misleading picture of large fluctuations of production. Data on heated water fish farms is excluded from this report. At the end of the 1990s the level of production of natural water farms stabilized at approximately 300–500 tonnes of large rainbow trout and 50 tonnes of common carp (Paaver, 1997; Meskeleviciute et al ., 2005).
Carp production has subsequently increased to the level corresponding to potential production of existing pond surface by extensive management. Demand for carp fingerlings by the owners of small water bodies (farm and garden ponds, small lakes etc.) has increased. Fish farmers have tried to adopt new aquaculture species (sturgeons, European eel, Anguilla anguilla , noble crayfish, Astacus astacus , charr, Salvelinus alpinus alpinus ), but these activities are still at an initial stage. Because the production of juvenile fish for restocking the natural waters eel, salmon, sea trout (Salmo trutta trutta ), brown trout (Salmo trutta fario ), whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus ), Northern pike (Esox lucius ), zander (Sander lucioperca ), tench (Tinca tinca ) is financed by the state, many fish farmers also rear these species.
According to data of Statistical Office of Estonia, approximately 100 people are employed in aquaculture. The gender distribution is nearly 1:1 in 10 small family enterprises but in 5 larger enterprises producing over 100 tonnes mostly men are working. The managers usually have a university education in biology or agriculture and 75 percent of the technical staff have a vocational education.
Estonia is a small country located between latitudes 57° and 60° N and longitudes 22° and 28° E and the environmental conditions are relatively uniform. However, the distribution of fish farms is irregular. The period of vegetation is a little longer in southern Estonia (by approximately two weeks), as a result of which carp farms are situated in southern Estonia. The concentration of trout farms in certain areas in north-eastern Estonia has historical reasons. In this area there are large springs which have been traditionally used for hatching trout. In western Estonia the land is flat and resources of cool fast flowing water, rich in oxygen are poor. Thus, there are no fish farms in operation. The brackishwater coastal sea is shallow, open to storms and covered by ice for a long period and there are very few suitable sites for large net cage farms or other types of mariculture.
In 2004 there were 12 mainly trout farming sites, four mainly carp farms and one recirculation eel farm in Estonia. One enterprise has initiated sturgeon farming, but no production has yet been sold. Two farms were producing only juvenile salmon or trout for restocking. Four crayfish farms sold crayfish cultivated in ponds. Mostly 1–3 summer old crayfish were sold for restocking, and the proportion of market size crayfish was negligible. At least ten more small crayfish farms have recently been established.
Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss ), common carp (Cyprinus carpio ) and European eel (Anguilla anguilla ) are the three major culture species produced. The proportion of reared freshwater crayfish (Astacus astacus ) and Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser baerii ) was still negligible. For trout farmers an important additional by product is trout roe which is salted and sold as red caviar. Another branch of aquaculture is the rearing of juvenile fish for restocking of the natural waters. This is financed mainly by the state. The government has spent US$ 0.6 million annually on restocking. In 2003 the following fish were released into Estonian waters: 554 000 reared eel juveniles; 210 000 one summer old, 172 000 one year and 35 000 two year old Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar ); 38 000 one summer old and 52 000 older sea trout (Salmo trutta trutta ); 35 000 one summer old common whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus ); 42 000 one summer old zander (Sander lucioperca ); and small amounts of Northern pike, tench and freshwater crayfish. Over 80 percent of the money spent for restocking is used to produce eel and salmon juveniles.
Rainbow trout eggs or juveniles are imported from Finland, Denmark, Sweden or the Russian Federation. There are no local broodstocks or breeding programmes. When buying the fertilized eggs or fry, the fish farmers are interested in late maturing female fish, which either are not mature at weight 2–3 kg or have developed eggs at this size. Thus, mainly all-female trout selected for late maturation is imported.
There are over 50 put-and-take fishing ponds. Ornamental fish (koi carps) are gaining popularity, but the amount of their trade is still negligible.
Production has not changed much in the period 1992–2003 (Meskeleviciute et al ., 2005), whereas sales prices have steadily increased. According to data of Statistical Office of Estonia altogether 372 tonnes (including 304 tonnes of rainbow trout, 51 tonnes of common carp and 17 tonnes of eel) were produced in 2003. Data about 2004 are definitively incomplete and information is not yet available for 2005. The Estonian Fish Farmers Association has collected the data directly from all fish farmers and estimates, that the production of trout is higher (but not over 500 tonnes) and the total value of farmed fish production (including trout caviar) was approximately US$ 2.8 million. According to FAO aquaculture statistics for 2003 a total of 372 tonnes was produced at a value of US$ 1,395 million.
The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Estonia according to FAO statistics:
Most of the trout is sold on the domestic market. Significant part (at least 1/3) is sold to put- and-take pond angling enterprises. The supermarket chains are the main channel for both, raw or processed fish. A small proportion is sold on-site. Because the potential market of red flesh salmonids is larger than Estonian own production, imports from Norway and Finland dominate the market. Carp is a niche product sold mainly as round fish on-site or on specialised fish markets. The export share of aquaculture products is very small. Only all the produced market size eel is exported. A small amount of large rainbow trout is exported to Latvia. No labelling or traceability systems exist for aquaculture production.
Due to its small size, the aquaculture sector has little influence on the national economy, fish consumption or social situation in rural areas. The fish markets and processing companies do not depend on domestic aquaculture production, but are dominated by capture fisheries or imports of farmed fish. Aquaculture has a little more influence on the economy through tourism, because put-and-take ponds are an attractive part of leisure time activities. Both fish farmers and tourist companies benefit from trade in fish for angling ponds. Small-scale fish farming i.e. keeping fish, mainly carp, on the farmstead or in summerhouse ponds is widespread. However, it is a hobby and is not for food production.
Fisheries administration is divided between the Ministry of Agriculture (fish as food) and the Ministry of Environment (fish as a natural resource). In both ministries there is a department responsible for fisheries regulation. In the Ministry of Environment the Department of Fish Resources is in charge of restocking activities which are financed by the state, including management of the state-owned Põlula Fish Rearing Centre. In the Ministry of Agriculture the Department of Fishery Economics regulates fish processing and trade. This includes aquaculture. The Estonian Fish Farmers Association, established in 1989, supports aquaculture, and does not operate as a producer organisation. It brings together different people: aquaculture producers, small-scale hobby farmers, scientists and government officials.
There are no regulations directly related to aquaculture. Certain paragraphs in the Fisheries Act, Water Act, Nature Conservation Act etc., as well as directives from the ministries of agriculture, environment etc., regulate particular aspects of aquaculture, e.g. water use, pollution load or transfer of fish from fish farms to the natural environment.
The Estonian state finances research on the basis of free competition of projects. Scientists take the initiative and make proposals about research priorities. The international publication record of the applicant, innovation level on the world scale and the quality of the project are the main evaluation criteria. Research in basic science is financed through the Ministry of Education and Science or the Estonian Science Foundation. Applied research projects are financed by the Ministry of Agriculture if they aim at increasing the amount or quality of agricultural (including aquaculture) production. They are financed by the Environmental Investment Centre if they are related to environmental questions (e.g. efficiency of restocking or influence of aquaculture on environment). There is a significant lack of research facilities for any aquaculture research. Some fish or crayfish farmers have supported applied research and provided tanks for experiments or supplied their production data. In the period 1985–2003 there was a break in the education of aquaculture specialists. Some of the fisheries students from different universities have received additional superficial education in aquaculture. Since 2003 the Department of Aquaculture of the Estonian University of Life Sciences has started to educate aquaculture specialists. There are currently 30 undergraduate and ten graduate and postgraduate students. Two technical high schools and two vocational schools offer a short course in aquaculture in their curriculum.
There are several institutions in Estonia where research and education into aquatic sciences, including fish biology, fisheries and management of aquatic resources, are carried out. The only institution specialised in aquaculture is the department of aquaculture of Estonian University of Life Sciences Some additional education in aquaculture is included in the curricula of other institutions. The other institutions are the Institute of Zoology and Hydrobiology and the Estonian Marine Institute of the University of Tartu , the Estonian Marine Academy and the Pärnu College of the University of Tartu.
After the collapse of the Soviet economy at the beginning of the 1990s no significant changes in the aquaculture sector took place. Total production fluctuated at below 500 tonnes. A few new enterprises have been established. Only a few fish farms have been modernised and have been able to increase production. New species have not yet gained much economic importance.
There are several factors, which have hindered the development of aquaculture:
Tohvert, T. , Paaver, T. & Kalakasvatus, E. 1999 . Fish farming in Estonia. Tartu. pp. 163. (In Estonian).
Paaver, T. 1997 . Aquaculture Development in Estonia. Eastfish, 2, pp. 24–26.
Meskeleviciute, S. , Ozolina, G. , Irval, S. & Paaver, T. 2005 . Aquaculture in the Baltics: Small but growing. Eurofish, 2, pp. 84–88.
FAO . 2005 . Aquaculture production, 2003. Year book of Fishery Statistics - Vol.96/2. Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.