Soon it is time for the Council of the EU to negotiate annual quotas for the Baltic Sea fisheries. The responsible ministers from each Member State meet annually to negotiate their share of the gold of the sea, the fishing rights. So far, this annual procedure has resulted in overfishing, in particular when it comes to Baltic cod, as well as a failure to tackle fishing on the seriously threatened European eel.
Large amounts of money are put in on research each year by the Member States themselves to find out how much fish is available and how much of it that would be reasonable to catch. But in the end, the efforts and advice from all these researchers, along with the ICES advice, are often ignored. The desire to secure short-term financial interests is prevalent when some ministers prioritise returning home with positive messages to their hard-tried fishermen.
This irresponsible conduct has led to several important fish stocks in the Baltic Sea now being overfished, especially the Baltic cod. Moreover, the profitability of cod fisheries is poor, and the lack of predatory fish has negative effects on the entire ecosystem.
The unsustainable management of our common resources must stop. Therefore, we at Stockholm University’s Baltic Sea Centre have sent a letter to all EU fisheries ministers participating in this year's fisheries quota negotiations on 9-10 October. In our letter, we call on the ministers to listen to science this time - and fully follow the scientific advice!
The following is a summary of our letter to the fisheries ministers:
We at Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre firmly believe that the only way to ensure a long-term sustainable and profitable fishing industry in the Baltic Sea is to apply an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management and protect the fish stocks from being overexploited. Such an approach requires a management that puts the state of the natural resources first and adjusts fishing effort according to how much the ecosystem can deliver.
Unfortunately, during too many years, the safe exploitation limits for some of the most ecologically (and economically) important Baltic fish stocks have not been respected, and scientific advice has not been fully complied with in quota setting. Consequently, both the Eastern and Western Baltic cod stocks are now at critical states.
This detrimental management has resulted in historically low cod catches in the Baltic Sea, a weakened economy for the fisheries sector, and an ecosystem without an important class of large sized, predatory fish.
Thus we want to stress that the kind of short-term thinking that has characterised the quota setting in the Baltic Sea in recent years now has to stop – for the sake of fish stocks, the economy of the fishing industry, and for the Baltic Sea ecosystem as a whole.
Our recommendations in short:
- Do not exceed the ICES advised catch limits for the Eastern cod stock (26 071 tonnes).
- Reduce commercial catches for the Western cod stock to the lowest possible levels, not exceeding ICES advice (between 1376 and 3541 tonnes).
- Do not follow the European Commission’s proposal to roll over fishing opportunities of 2017 exploitation levels for the Western cod stock (5597 tonnes).
- Adhere to ICES advice regarding sprat fisheries in subdivisions 25-26.
- Vote for a total eel fishing ban in the Baltic Sea, as proposed by the European Commission and as advised by ICES.