The Saaremaa FLAG covers the islands of western Estonia in Saare county, with exception of Hiiumaa which has its own FLAG. The biggest islands in the Saaremaa FLAG area are Saaremaa, Muhu, Ruhnu, and Abruka ja Vilsandihe. The administrative centre of the area is the city of Kuressaare on Saaremaa island. Fishing and tourism have an important role in the local economy and there is a long-standing fisheries tradition that has been preserved and developed over the years. Other main industry in the area consists of mainly food processing and electronics.
Fisheries in the area are divided between trawling, small-scale coastal and recreational fishing, and main catches include herring, sprat and cod. Fishing activities are conducted both in the open Baltic Sea and in the Gulf of Riga and coastal fishing is allowed up to 12 nautical miles from the coast and up to 20m in depth. The main areas of activity are the southern coast of Saaremaa, Väinameri, Küdema Bay and Tagalaht where traps and nets are used predominantly used for fishing. Coastal fishing remains socially important for communities across the territory, particularly for generating income in rural areas. The region also deals with agaric and red algae collection.
A key challenge to the FLAG area is its decreasing population caused by net-migration, a negative birth rate and an ageing population.
Protected natural areas make up about 18.5% of Saare County, including one national park, 28 nature reserves and 15 landscape reserves. Saaremaa is part of the Western Estonian Archipelago Biosphere Reserve (BKA), along with Hiiumaa, Muhu, Vormsi, their neighbouring smaller islands.
The FLAG strategy sets out to develop the area's fisheries by improving the county’s network of ports and landing sites, increasing the availability of fish. This improved networking and infrastructure, along supporting fish on-the-spot valuation (as a means of shortening supply chains) will increase the incomes of fishermen and will contribute to the creation of new businesses and jobs, predominantly in tourism and processing sectors.
Given the seasonal nature of the fisheries industry in the Saaremaa, diversification into other sectors, such as tourism, are a central part of the FLAG strategy. Furthermore, the FLAG will continue to support the improvement of fisheries resources at all levels of the supply chain, from spawning to the processing and marketing of fish.
FLAG project examples and ideas include:
The purchasing and integrated use of ice-draining equipment across the area.
Calls for project proposals will take place in spring (February) and, if there is still funding available, in the autumn (October). More information on projects and the application process is available on the Saaremaa FLAG website: www.saartekalandus.ee
The inclusion of non-sectoral partners in activities will allow operators in the fisheries sector to diversify their activities, as well as market their products and services. Cooperation between FLAG participants allows for the sharing of best and worse practices as well as allowing for important training opportunities. It is hoped that new markets can be found through cooperation. Main activities include: organising training in cooperation with other FLAGs in Estonia, promoting cross-sectoral cooperation in the county, and an exchange of traineeships with other FLAGs in Estonia and further afield.
The FLAG offers other fishing areas the opportunity to get acquainted with the small-scale fishing traditions of Saaremaa and its small fishing processing facilities. National cooperation and cross-border cooperation projects are envisaged for implementation in Estonia.
FLAG members include local municipalities, private fishermen, entrepreneurs and private companies both in and outside the fisheries sector.