There are more than 30,000 species of fish in the world Estonian waters are home to about 75 species of fish, most of whom are freshwater fish, semidiadromous (ide, vimba bream) or diadromous fish (salmon, sea trout, eel). Estonian coastal water is inhabited by about 30 marine fish species, but since Estonian coastline is surrounded by brackish water, several freshwater fish species can also be found there.
Strategic purpose of fishery is to ensure that fish populations are diverse and in good condition. It is essential to avoid potential negative impacts of fishing on the ecosystem. Thus, a set of rules (such as minimal landing sizes) must be set. It is also important to make sure that spawning grounds stay intact and spawning fish are not disturbed. In addition, since many fish are known to undertake regular and significant migrations, keeping migration routes open is essential. Fish stocks are in good status, if populations have a natural age distribution and are able to reproduce naturally under current conditions.
Most of commercial fishing is regulated internationally. Calculation of exploitation rates on the Baltic Sea differentiates between highly and less migratory fish. Catch limitations on highly migratory fish (sprat, herring, cod, salmon) are established by the Council of the European Union. Less migratory fish (perch, zander, etc) are managed by states themselves. Fishing opportunities and conditions in Lakes Peipsi, Pihkva and Lämmijärv are agreed upon by the Estonian-Russian Fisheries Commission.
There are three basic divisions of recreational fishing in Estonia. Fishing with one simple hand line is free of charge for everyone. Recreational fishing right has to be purchased if one wishes to fish with more simple hand lines or with other sport fishing equipment. To protect more vulnerable populations there are some additional restrictions. Hence, certain fishing sites, periods and methods require a fishing card. More detailed information can be found in the pocket guide for recreational fishing in Estonia.
In Estonia, fisheries management is divided between five offices:
1) Ministry of the Environment prepares and implements policies on protection and use of fishery resources including reproduction of fish stocks and protection and restoration of spawning grounds and habitats. The ministry also provides permits for scientific research and special purpose fishing;
2) Ministry of Rural Affairs develops market organisation systems, awards structural supports and state aid, manages aquaculture sector and is responsible for policy making regarding commercial fishing;
3) Veterinary and Food Board manages commercial fishing by issuing permits for commercial fishing, managing the national registry of fishing vessels and catch accounting;
4) Environmental Board provides fishing cards and collects recreational fishing data;
5) Environmental Inspectorate carries out monitoring of fishing activities.
Stocking of fish
Many species of fish (salmon, eel, sea trout) are threatened because of over-exploitation or lack of suitable reproduction areas and habitats as well as their natural reproductive capacity being too low. In order to restore or reinforce their natural populations, young fish are being reared in fish farms.
The fish farming department of RMK Põlula is responsible for farming fish for Estonia. The main species grown and restocked are salmon and eel. Other restocked fishes include sea trout, asp, pike perch, tench, common carp, northern pike and crayfish, although the number of these restocked fishes is small.
To restore and maintain the good condition of fish stocks and manage sustainable fishing, the following measures have been implemented:
- The foundation for the systematic recovery of fish stocks in fish farms has been laid;
- The principles of the EU Common Fisheries Policy has been implemented and the fishing legislation has been coordinated with the EU legislation;
- The definitions, rights and obligations of commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen have been structured according to the national legislation;
- The traditional fishing opportunities have been consolidated and enlarged for Estonian fishermen;
- A common fisheries online database has been implemented, improving the surveillance on illegal fishing and the marketing of caught fish;
- By opening fish ladders to spawning grounds on the barrages of rivers highly important to fisheries and thereby enlarging the fishes’ habitat, a project improving the ecological quality of bodies of water has been initiated to resolve the issues of impeding the migration routes of highly migratory fishes;
- The systematic mapping and assessment of spawning grounds has been initiated along with defining the development of recreational fishing.