EU standards frighten fisheries

  • 2003-05-01

Latvian fisheries organizations have called on the government to focus on problems facing the fishing industry, which they say is in critical condition.

The organizations want the government to back loans they say the industry needs to meet EU standards, which must be completed before Latvia's pending entry into the trade bloc on May 1, 2004. Some of the fish processors have been granted extensions on the requirements until January 2005.

Latvia has 134 fish processing companies.

So far only 10 - Unda, Banga, Banga Seafood, Brivais Vilnis, Lido, Baltic Seafood, Stema International, Baltijas Zivs 97 and Baltijas Zivs - have refitted their production lines to comply with EU standards.

Andris Bite, a board member of the processor Kaija, said that fish processing companies are having trouble securing loans from Latvian banks, mainly due to the fact that several fisheries defaulted on loans after the 1998 Russian financial crisis.

Several have also filed for bankruptcy in recent years, leaving many bank loans unpaid.

Bite said Kaija, one of the largest processors, needs 2.1 million lats (3.33 million euros) to upgrade its production lines. Some of that money will reportedly come from the EU's SAPARD program.

He said without government support the industry would collapse and an estimated 9,5000 workers would lose their jobs.

Fisheries associations and unions have also called on the government to increase catch quotas.

The requests have been passed on to the ministries of Economy and Agriculture, according to the prime minister's office.