Fisheries in Liepāja shift more business to hospitality

Following the EU-wide ban on cod fishing in the Baltic Sea, fisheries have instead moved on to the hospitality and tourism business. An old warehouse in the Liepāja port town now houses a brewery, a fish procession plant and a gastropub. The proprietors – the Laugaļi family – already have experience in hospitality after fishing fleets were cut, but now they've set up shop at the scenic Liepāja marina with help from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. 

The old Briedis fishing vessel, once used for catching cod, is now on shore and will probably be scrapped. But the old warehouse, heritage of Liepāja's proud maritime history, has been renovated thoroughly. The Laugaļi family and their associated company Ervils have had to put a lot of thought into how to restructure their business, cutting down the number of ships and moving into a different industry.

Co-owner Aigars Laugalis says about €300,000 has been invested into the project, with about half of that coming from the EU.

"There are four stories in this warehouse. Partnering up with Liepāja town, our fisheries have carried out three projects almost simultaneously. It took a long time to start. The building is quite spacious at 1,600 square meters. We'll use project funding to develop the upper stories as well," said Laugalis.

The ground floor, where old brick arcs have been preserved, now houses a small brewery, which is operational by now. Some of the Puta (Foam) beer is exported, and some of it is consumed domestically. Behind a glass wall is the projected bistro, complete with elegant wooden interior that preserves the old ambiance of the place, and helps enjoy the fish food which is to be served here starting July.

"We've hired just a few employees as of now. It took place before the crisis, so it's not like we have to close shop and reopen again. Luckily we haven't incurred massive losses, we have to be ready to adapt, to be elastic. This is a signal we have to keep in mind. It's not a coincidence eateries are shifting towards deliveries and other services.

"The project says it will be a bistro, but to be specific it will be a fish place or a gastropub. [..] There are not many places where you can have fish food in Liepāja," said Laugulis.

The processing plant was intended to process cod, but the ban has put an end to this plan and instead they offered products to European restaurants. Since these restaurants have been hit by the pandemic, they've had to reshape their offer to fit the domestic market.

Inita Ate, director for projects at the Liepāja Partnership society, says that while this is the most noticeable project in town, others have cropped up as well.

"We have the Asarītis company in Jūrmalciems. They're an active fishery. They have a building for storing boats and smoking fish and mending nets. This is important as beforehand they sent the nets to Rīga to mend. Now we have equipment in Jūrmalciems and Pāvilosta. So that's a lot of added value to the fishing industry," said Ate.

In addition, the Pāvilosta fishery Kaija are using solar batteries for smoking fish, and have even set up a pier where people can step off the boat to visit their nearby store.

There's a new contest for projects worth €300,000, and Ate hopes that fisheries from Jūrmalciems, Rucava, Liepāja and Pāvilosta will apply for support. 

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