Text: Henrik Hamrén
Denmark and Germany continue to catch cod - despite ban
Despite poor population growth and critically low numbers of mature cod, Denmark and Germany allow their fishermen to trawl during the closed period. The decision has both ecological and political implications, says Baltic Eye’s fisheries expert Gustaf Almqvist.
The Baltic western stock of cod is endangered. Population growth has never been worse. Most cod are only about 30 centimeters long, or less, and the spawning stock biomass (the amount of mature fish) is critically low.
To give the stock a chance to recover, the EU's fisheries ministers decided to extend the ban on cod fishing in the western Baltic Sea during the key spawning season, from February 1 to March 31 of this year.
But now, the German and Danish authorities have given their fishermen the green light to continue trawling even during the closed period.
In theory, the decision only concerns flatfish fisheries. But in practice it is very difficult to trawl for flatfish without also catching cod.
– Trawling for flatfish can use smaller mesh than the ones used for cod. As a result, the risk of catching more of the really small cod – which are below the minimum size and have not yet become sexually mature – actually increases, says Gustaf Almqvist, fisheries expert at the Stockholm University's Baltic Centre.
Germany was the first country to circumvent the agreement. And the other day, the Danish Minister of environment, Esben Lunde Larsen (Venstre), announced that Danish fishermen will also be allowed to trawl during the closed period.
Neither the Minister nor representatives of the Danish Environment and Food Ministry would comment on Baltic Eye’s further questions about the decision.
But in an earlier press release Esben Lunde Larsen justified the decision by saying that "it would be untenable if Danish fishermen were asked to do differently than their German counterparts in the same fishery."
The bycatch of cod may not exceed ten percent of the total catch, according to Danish and German authorities. However, large quantities of cod will probably still be landed, especially in the Danish flatfish fishery, which is significantly larger than the German one.
In theory, the Danish flatfish trawlers could land more than 500 tonnes of cod during the closed period. That is equivalent to more than half of ICES recommended catch quota for the western stock – for the whole of 2017.
Both cod and plaice are covered under the so-called landing obligation, which means that no unwanted (undersized) catch of those species are allowed to be thrown overboard. All fish caught in the trawls must be landed and registered, and deducted from the total quota.
– If you are using trawls with smaller meshes you will likely bring up a lot of cod that are under the minimum size. So, it will be challenging for the fisheries control authorities to secure adherence to the landing obligation, says Gustaf Almqvist.
The primary purpose of an extended closure period is to avoid to disturb cod during spawning season.
– Spawning for the Western stock has been unsuccessful in recent years, which is why the extended moratorium is now so important. It would favor the rejuvenation of the stock and ultimately allow for more and bigger cod, which will benefit future fisheries, says Gustaf Almqvist.
The fact that the two countries now circumvent the trawling ban during the closed period, has not only ecological but also political implications, he says.
– The extension of the fishing ban period during spawning was a joint agreement between all the EU member countries. As I understand it, the decision was also meant to compensate not following the scientific advice and deciding on a higher catch quota.
In recent years, EU fisheries ministers have decided on catch quotas that are well above the ICES scientific advice for the western stock. Last year Sweden and Poland succeeded in getting the Council of ministers to accept an extension of the ban on cod fisheries, from six to eight weeks.
– Denmark and Germany are now breaking the deal that they previously agreed to, says Gustaf Almqvist.