Original publication: May 2018
Author: Eveline SMITH, under the supervision of Priit OJAMAA
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2x7cn4L
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Graphic overview

The Åland Islands (Ahvenanmaa in Finnish) is an archipelago province at the southwest of Finland. The archipelago is located in the Baltic Sea, bordering the Gulf of Bothnia. Its closest neighbour is Sweden. The Åland Islands consists of more than 6700 islands. 65 of these islands are inhabited, whereas the remaining islands are uninhabitable skerries or desolate rocks. In 2016 the Åland Islands counted 29 214 inhabitants (ÅSUB, 2016). The majority of these inhabitants reside in the capital of the archipelago, Mariehamm (ÅSUB, 2018).

Figure 1: Geographical location of the islands - Map of Finland

© Image used under the license from Shutterstock.com

Political system and current situation

The Åland Islands is an autonomous, demilitarised, Swedish-speaking region of Finland. The archipelago has its own government and parliament. The latter, in line with the basic principles of a democratic state, appoints the regional Åland government, supervises their work, passes laws in competent areas, and has budgetary powers. Finnish state law applies to those areas wherein the Åland parliament does not have the competence to pass laws.

The areas wherein the Åland parliament has the competence to legislate are laid down in article 18 of the Act of the Autonomy of Åland (1991/1144). All business related to internal affairs fall under the competence of the Åland parliament according to this treaty. National fisheries policy is considered as an internal affair and is therefore prepared by the Finance, Industry, Trade, and Agriculture Committee of the Åland parliament.

The autonomous status of the Åland Islands is also laid down in this Autonomy Act, even though Sweden and Finland had a dispute whether to recognize the new autonomous legal status of the Åland Islands after the publication of the Autonomy Act. The matter was namely referred to the Council of the League of Nations in 1921 which decided that the archipelago should be recognised as an autonomous region of Finland, but at the same time enjoy a special status under international law. All legal business related to the autonomy of the Åland Islands and international treaties are now executed by the Legal and Cultural Committee of the Åland parliament. When Finland joined the EU in 1995 it thus had to have the consent of the Åland parliament. The current relationship between the Åland Islands and the EU is regulated in the Åland protocol, thus confirming the special status under international law.

Economic overview in a regional context

The Åland Islands is a small society with an open economy that is dependent on trade with its neighbouring regions, notably Southern Finland and the Stockholm region which are both economic centres. The Åland Islands is sensitive to economic fluctuations of these two neighbouring markets. The economy of the Åland Islands itself is dominated by the service sector. Overall, the income levels are in line with the average of the mainland of Finland. The fishing sector in the Åland Islands is small and localised in comparison with neighbouring regions. The number of employed persons in the fishing sector in the Åland Islands amounted approximately 88 persons in 2016. Such statistics highlight the small size of the fishing sector.


Catches and landings

The evolution of the total fish catches by the archipelago (2004 – 2016) is reflected in figure 2. 100% of the catches landed in Finnish ports originated from Finnish vessels (Åland Islands included). The statistics on the yield of fishing, provided for by the government of Åland, indicates that Baltic herring and sprat are the most commonly caught species. Other popular fish includes perch, whitefish, and crayfish. Catches of perch and cod have decreased significantly.

Figure 2: The yield of fishing 2004-2016 (catch, tonnes)

Trade volume and values

In 2015, Finland was EU’s 12th largest producer of fisheries and the 14th largest producer of aquaculture products. The consumption of aquaculture products in Finland amounted 23,3 kg/per capita in 2015, a 9% decrease from the previous year. In 2017 Finland imported a total amount of 119 000 tonnes of fish with a value of 524 million euro (figure 4). The most popular consumed species were herring, salmons, rainbow trout and canned tuna, of which salmon and trout are the main commercial species imported by Finland. The top 4 countries from which Finland imports (in value, 2017) fish are Norway, Sweden, Estonia and Denmark. The main commercial species for export are salmon, trout and herring. The main countries of destination (in value, 2017) are Estonia, the UK, France and Poland. Finland exported an average of 78 000 tonnes of fish (value: 152 million euro) to neighbouring countries in 2017 (figure 5). Finnish fish exports to neighbouring countries increased from 61 000 tonnes in 2009 to 78 000 tonnes in 2017.

Åland Islands
The Åland Islands caught a total amount of 15.898 tonnes of fish in 2015. The total gross value of the fish industry, taking into account import and export, in the archipelago region amounted 3.847 000 euro in 2016 (figure 3). The most important species landed, in terms of value, at the Åland Islands are Baltic herring, sprat, perch and cod.

Figure 3: The yield of fishing 2004-2016 (gross value, 1,000 EUR)

Figure 4: Main commercial species imported and % over total imports (2017, million euro)

Figure 5: Main commercial species exported and % over total exports (2017, million euro)

Fishing vessels

The EUMOFA vessel data for Finland includes the vessels from the Åland Islands. According to their 2015 statistics the Finnish fishing fleet is mainly comprised out of a small-scale coastal fleet (vessels less than 18 metres long). Only 4% of the Finnish fishing fleet is regarded as a large-scale fleet. The Finnish fishing fleet mainly uses pelagic trawls to catch herring. Offshore Finnish vessels mainly fish for cod with bottom trawls. According to the EU fishing fleet register Finland counted 3.274 active vessels in 2018.

Figure 6: The Finnish fishing fleet and gear composition


Currently, fish consumption in the EU is on a constant rise, while captures are decreasing due to depleting fish stocks. Consequently, overexploitation of marine resources has become a pressing issue in the EU. Aquaculture could be the answer to tighten this gap between supply and demand.

The Åland Islands mainly produces farmed fish for the mainland of Finland. The main commercial species farmed in the Åland Islands are salmonids and (rainbow) trout. In 2017 the Åland Islands had 6 aquaculture facilities operating and 94,5 people were employed in the aquaculture sector that same year. The total aquaculture production amounted 5 997 997 kg, with a value of 37 130 000 euro, in 2015.

EU cooperation in the aquaculture sector
Efficient, transparent and predictable management of aquaculture, improved cooperation, and increased competitiveness are to be maintained via cooperation on the Baltic Sea level. To this end, the Member States bordering the Baltic Sea participate in EU funded projects to achieve these strategic guidelines. Previous flag-ship EU funded projects, in which the Åland Islands participated, included AQAFIMA – Integrating Aquaculture and Fisheries Management towards a sustainable regional development in the Baltic Sea Region -, and AQUABEST. In addition the Åland Islands follows the recommendations made by HELCOM’s Action Program for the Baltic Sea aquaculture sector, which focusses on reducing the net load and to create a nutrient neutral aquaculture sector using Baltic raw material in fish feed for fish.

National framework for the aquaculture sector
The Åland Islands has developed its own regional policy objectives, apart from Finland, in accordance with the Autonomy Act for its aquaculture sector. According to the aquaculture multiannual national plan of the archipelago the islands focus on research and development, cooperation between the government and industry, improved physical planning, marketing and information on aquaculture products, and cross border cooperation with neighbouring countries. National legislation mainly focusses on strict environmental control to achieve sustainable, environmental and economic management of the Åland Islands aquaculture sector.

National framework for capture fisheries sector
The Finance, Industry, Trade, and Agriculture Committee of the Åland parliament is responsible for all internal business related to fisheries, according to section 18  of the Åland Autonomy Act. It was furthermore agreed by the Finnish 1982 Fisheries Act that private owned water areas, where most of the Finnish fishing activities takes place, falls under the responsibility of their owners. These private water areas owners are represented in Finnish fisheries associations. All private owned waters are divided into fisheries

Link to the full publication: http://bit.ly/617-480

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