Cod stocks are going from bad to worse

Fishing quotas for the western cod stocks must be cut drastically. In addition, the EU cannot wait any longer to introduce a much more ecosystem-based fisheries management. This is the message in Baltic Eye’s consultation reply to the European Commission regarding next year’s fishing in the Baltic Sea.

The status for the Baltic Sea’s western cod stock has gone from bad to worse. The biomass is currently severely reduced and far below what can be considered a biologically sustainable level. At the same time, the recruitment of one-year old fishes (individuals that have reached the age of one) remains poor. Last years scientific sampling revealed historically low levels of young fish.

Profitability for commercial fisheries is deteriorating

“Having allowed the stock to shrink to a level below the minimum limit to ensure its continued existence, is not only irresponsible with regards to the stability of the stock but also to the entire ecosystem, given the central role of cod as the dominant  predatory fish species.. Moreover, it means that profitability for commercial fisheries falls. Since It costs more in time and energy to catch the fish if the stock size is small,” says marine ecologist Gustaf Almqvist at the Baltic Sea Centre’s Baltic Eye.

In October the EU fisheries ministers are to decide on fishing quotas (TACs) for 2017. Prior to this meeting, the European Commission’s Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, DG MARE, referred the question for consideration in a consultation document.

In its response to the Commission, Baltic Eye emphasises the fact that extraordinary measures are needed to improve the condition of the western cod stock in the Baltic Sea. The Commission’s proposal regarding fishing in the Baltic Sea for 2017 (29 August), which describes the quotas for the various fish stocks, does not mention either the eastern or western cod stocks. The Commission chooses to await the expert opinion of the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF). At the same time, critics say that this is a delaying tactic, as the scientific data is clear and available.

Over the past two years, the ministers have decided on quotas for the western cod stock that have been almost double the scientific recommendations from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which follows the levels for maximum sustainable yield (MSY). This is one of the reasons why the stock is currently in such bad condition.

“The member states have used the opportunity not to adapt the quotas to MSY with the pretext that this would be a hard blow to those fishing for a livelihood. This, together with the poor recruitment of young individuals to the stock , has been devastating for cod stocks. In 2017 our politicians must begin to follow the scientific advice and not allow quotas to exceed 917 tonnes,” says Gustaf Almqvist.

In its consultation response, Baltic Eye presents models showing how the western cod stock could have developed during the period 1994-2015, if the management had followed MSY for the entire period. The conclusions are clear. A consistent management in accordance with MSY would have resulted in equally large or larger catches. At the same time, the stock would have been able to grow and could have a biomass up to five times greater than today.

We advocate setting levels just below MSY

“Of course, this has not been possible in practice for most of this period, as the fishing pressure was set at a higher level in the previous management plan for the Baltic Sea cod stocks. But it shows how important it is to at least follow MSY levels from now on. However, we advocate setting levels just below MSY to further secure growth in the stocks and provide a buffer for environmental fluctuations in the future,” says Gustaf Almqvist.

Baltic Eye’s consultation response



Gustaf Almqvist

Marine ecologist & Advocacy and Analysis Officer