Text: Henrik Hamrén
Catch quotas for 2018 decided
The Baltic Sea cod once again became the biggest loser when the EU fisheries ministers decided on next year's catch quotas. The ministers also voted against the proposal for a total ban on eel fishing in the Baltic Sea.
It took until the early hours before EU fisheries ministers could agree on how much fish should be caught in the Baltic Sea next year. At a press conference in Luxembourg on Tuesday morning it was clear that the 2018 catch quotas for cod once again will be higher than what science recommends.
It's upsetting that the Council once again allow far too high catch levels for this heavily exposed stock
Western stock quotas higher than recommended
For the western cod stock, the ministers accepted the European Commission's proposal to maintain last year's total allowable catch (TAC) of 5 597 metric tons, which from the outset was higher than the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) recommendations of between 1 376 and 3 541 metric tons.
– It's upsetting that the Council once again chooses to prioritise short-term economic gain and allow far too high catch levels for this heavily exposed stock. This kind of short-term thinking not only damages cod stocks and the Baltic Sea ecosystem but also the fishing industry, says Gustaf Almqvist, Marine Ecologist and Policy Officer at Stockholm University’s Baltic Sea Centre.
Eastern stock: limit reduction much lower than recommended
For the eastern stock, the Commission proposed a catch limit reduction of 28 percent, to 22 275 metric tons, which is in line with the scientific advice. However, the Council agreed to an 8 percent reduction compared to last year, allowing a catch limit of 28,388 metric tons for next year.
– It is clear that the ability to manage stocks that are in crisis is insufficient. And it is extremely worrying that our politicians once again abandon the scientific recommendations. Especially since the recent ICES advice clearly states that the eastern cod stock has been overfished in recent years, and since we also get more and more indications that weak cod stocks negatively affect the entire Baltic Sea ecosystem, says Gustaf Almqvist.
Danish exception from fishing ban during spawning period
One of the major stumbling blocks during the negotiations was the proposed ban on cod fishing for the western stock during the spawning period, from 1 February to 31 March. According to the proposed regulation for the Council meeting, obtained and published by Politico, Denmark finally negotiated an exception for fishing vessels under 12 meters.
Total ban on eel fishing not endorsed
Another hot potato during the meeting was the Commission's proposal for a total ban on eel fishing in the Baltic Sea next year. The proposal was not endorsed by the Council of Ministers.
– The European eel is acutely endangered. At the same time, the coastal eel fisheries have a marginal economical value, says Henrik Svedäng, researcher at the Baltic Sea Centre.
Sweden was the only country announcing to be prepared to say yes to the proposal. However, since the proposal lacked support, Sweden instead agreed in a letter of ratification to invite the Commission to come up with a new proposal for the eastern Atlantic quota negotiations in December. This proposal will then be applicable for all EU waters and not only the Baltic Sea.
There is really nothing that prevents Sweden from introducing a one-sided ban on the Swedish coastal eel fishery.
- Unfortunately, we did not reach all the way for the eel, but I will of course continue to do what I can to ensure we still have eels in our seas, said Sven-Erik Bucht, Swedish Minister for Rural Development, in a press release on Tuesday.
Henrik Svedäng, who for long has followed the debate around the eel, thinks that Sweden could have drawn a sharper lance in the negotiations.
– There is really nothing that prevents Sweden from introducing a national ban on the Swedish coastal eel fishery. The 150-200 metric tons of eel that the Swedish coastal fishery takes every year probably would have meant a lot for the European eel stock. Instead, they now choose to play roulette with the stock, from some kind of fairness perspective, says Henrik Svedäng.
Adjustments for several commercial stocks
For several of the other commercial stocks in the Baltic Sea, ministers agreed on a series of adjustments to catch levels (TAC) compared to last year:
- Herring, western Baltic Sea: reduction of TAC by 39 percent
- Herring, central Baltic Sea: increase of TAC by 20 percent
- Herring, Gulf of Riga: reduction of TAC by 7 percent
- Herring, the Bothnian Sea and Gulf of Bothnia: reduction of TAC by 40 percent
- Sprat: increase of TAC by 1 percent
- Salmon, Central Baltic Sea: Reduction of TAC by 5 percent
- Salmon, Gulf of Finland: Reduction of TAC by 5 percent
- Red plaice: Reduction of TAC by 10 percent