”Quotas above the scientific recommendations would be a betrayal to the whole management plan”

EU ministers' decision on the cod quota is about the future of fishing

On 10 October Europe’s fisheries ministers meet in Luxembourg to decide on how much fish can be caught in the Baltic Sea next year. Their most important decision regards the Baltic Sea cod stock – especially the western stock.

Text: Henrik Hamrén

– The western stock is in a disastrous state, says Gustaf Almqvist, researcher andfisheries policy expert at Baltic Eye.

The past years’ scientific data speak volumes. The western stock recruitment is at ahistoric low. At the same time the amount of adult fish falls far below the scientifically set minimum levels, which makes it difficult for the stock to produce new and healthy generations.

According to Gustaf Almqvist it is therefore crucial that the EU Member States fisheries ministers now follow the scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

– To allow fishing to continue at unsustainable levels would be completely irresponsible, he says.

The negative development of the western stock can to a great extent be blamed on EUfisheries ministers’ previous decisions. Over the past years they have gone against ICES recommendations and set quotas far too high for cod fishing. Last year, the catch quota was set twice as high as ICES recommendations – despite the strong warnings from the scientific community and many environmental NGOs. For 2017 ICES proposes a quota of 917 ton cod for the western stock In the last two years, EU ministers have decided on quotas (Agreed TAC) for the western cod stock which is far above the scientific advice (ICES Advice). How much cod landed (Landings) in 2016, we know only after the end of the year.

For 2017 ICES proposes a quota of 917 ton cod for the western stock, which is a drastic reduction compared with the previous year (5 385 ton). With such a decrease in fishing pressure ICES estimates that the adult biomass (the part of the fish stock that has reached sexual maturity) can increase with 40 percent during 2017.

Gustaf Almqvist claims it is far from sure that the Council of Ministers will follow the recommendation.

– The Danish government for instance has clearly signalled that the will try and push through a more modest lowering of the fishing quota for the western stock. Their reason being to protect the domestic fishing industry, he says.

Such a short-sighted perspective is exactly what has led to today’s negative situation and which makes drastic emergency measures the only way to secure the stock.

– Now it is about securing the future of fisheries. Earlier this year the EU Commission has furthermore flagged that there are financial means to compensate those fishermen who would be affected by the drastically lowered quotas, says Gustaf Almqvist.

It is not only the western cod stock which is in danger. The eastern Baltic Sea stock can also be in danger according to Gustaf Almqvist.

– Over the past years the eastern stock has shown a worrying size distribution. Themajority of the fishes are now very small and have started spawning earlier than usual,even at the length of only 20 centimetres, which is extremely small for cod, he says.

Decided quotas (Agreed TAC), scientific advice (ICES Advice) and quantity of cod landed (Landings) in the OSRA cod stock in recent years. Decided quotas (Agreed TAC), scientific advice (ICES Advice) and quantity of cod landed (Landings) in the OSRA cod stock in recent years.

– There has not been as many political discussions around the eastern stock this year, which hopefully is an indication that EU ministers are more united in their stance to follow ICES recommendations this time.

The outcome of Monday’s Fisheries Council will serve as the blueprint for how the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the new multiannual plan for fishing in the BalticSea will work in practice. 

The multiannual plan came into force this past spring and includes demands for a more ecosystem based management as well as ensuring that fish stocks are restored and maintained at sustainable levels.

– This is the first time the new plan will be put to the test. A ministerial decision which once again results in quotas above scientific recommendations would be a betrayal of the whole multiannual plan and the broad political agreement reached this summerafter years of intense negotiations, says Gustaf Almqvist.

Gustaf Almqvist

Marine ecologist & Advocacy and Analysis Officer


Henrik Hamrén

science journalist