“We have everything to gain on ending over-fishing”


Can we save the Baltic Sea?

In order to achieve the goals of having a healthy Baltic Sea and sustainable fish stocks, we need to fish a bit less over a period of time, so that the fish can grow and the stocks can recover- which will also result in more stable returns for the fisheries, according to Swedish MEP Linnéa Engström.

The Baltic Sea Multiannual Management Plan was the first legislative process I was working on for the Green group, as a newly elected Member of Parliament in 2014. The Baltic Sea was the first sea to get a management plan under the reformed EU Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, and the first sea for which both the Parliament and the Council would jointly set a limit for how much fish member states could fish. 

The negotiations were very tough. My team worked hard to ensure that the Parliament guarded the reformed fisheries legislation.

Maximum Sustainable Yield - a change of direction

The reformed CFP was supposed to be a change of direction and end the historically poor fishing practices in the Baltic Sea where fish stocks had long been exploited in an unsustainable manner. The new fisheries policy was based on the principle of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), which allows for a certain amount of fish to be fished over time while the stocks have a sustainable growth.

It is, of course, difficult to know exactly how MSY is to be achieved, or how it looks in reality. A sea is, as you know, no aquarium where all factors can be controlled. In our sensitive Baltic Sea, the situation is especially difficult since low salinity, hypoxia, pollution and eutrophication affects both the ecosystem and fish growth.

The result of all our efforts was that the Parliament adopted a very ambitious position before the negotiations with the Council, which could actually have put an end to overfishing within the EU. Of course, I was very happy and satisfied! I had great support from environmental organisations at EU level, such as WWF, the Pew Charitable Trust, Oceana and others. We worked without prestige and close together during this intense period.

Negotiations led to agreements to continue overfishing

However, after hard negotiations with the Council, we got a multi-annual plan for fisheries, which unfortunately allows for continued overfishing. This is mainly due to the fact that the plan contains intervals for Fmsy (fishing mortality rate providing maximum sustainable yield), which allows for too high catch quotas.

Can the Baltic Sea be saved? is a question I often get. My answer is a doubtless yes. But in order to do so we have to deal with our destructive behaviour and ways of selfishly grabbing what nature provides.

More stable stocks when time given for recovery

In order to achieve the goal of having a healthy Baltic Sea and sustainable fish stocks, we must ensure that fishing mortality (F) is at levels below Fmsy. It is not that difficult; fish a little less over a period of time so that the fish can grow and the stocks recover- which will also result in more stable returns for the fisheries industry.

Each year the Commission presents a proposal for recommended catch quotas in the Baltic Sea, based on scientific advice and the multiannual plan. We in the Parliament carefully monitor how the plan is followed, both the proposals from the Commission and later in the Council’s decision on quotas, adopted in October each year.

The council decides on quotas exceeding the scientific recommendations

The Council has been invited several times to us in the Committee on fisheries to explain why they do not respect and comply with the legislation we negotiated together, and why they decide on quotas that in many cases exceed the scientific recommendations. They have so far refused to see us. As a result, overfishing continues to some extent. We need to increase the pace radically in the process of restoring our fish stocks and stopping overfishing – as we said we should do by 2020.

EU institutions need to respect scientific recommendations

We have everything to gain in putting an end to the depletion of fish stocks in European waters. From a citizen's point of view, it is also important that the EU institutions respect and follow the decisions we take, instead of hollowing them out by pushing contradictory agendas such as not following the scientific recommendations in the quota decisions. That, if anything, damages the credibility of politics in these difficult times for European cooperation.

In Miljöpartiet we actively pursue a conscious policy to protect our oceans and fish stocks, both at EU level and nationally in the Swedish government and Riksdagen. We would like to see the following developments in the future:

  1. Protect more marine areas and increase the quality of protection. Ban or regulate bottom trawling and boat traffic in sensitive waters. At present, fishing and boat traffic are usually not regulated in marine protected areas. Bottom trawling is a fishing method that destroys the bottoms and needs to be further regulated in protected areas. It may also be good to introduce a partial ban in certain regions.
  2. Distribute fishing rights according to social and environmental criteria. Small-scale fishing, that is gentle to the marine environment and the fish stocks, should be benefited when allocating fishing opportunities. The EU legislation allows for such allocating procedures.
  3. Make sure that the landing obligation is complied with. The landing obligation means that all fish caught and having a quota within the EU shall be landed at port. This also applies to seafood under minimum reference size for conservation. An important part of implementing the landing obligation is a requirement for fully documented fishing with cameras on board the fishing vessels.
  4. Ban eel fishing in Sweden. The eel is an acutely endangered species in Sweden and also threatened internationally. The EU Commission recently issued a proposal to ban eel fishing in the Baltic Sea in 2018. However, some researchers have criticised the proposal and believe it is better to introduce a ban on inland fishing of eel.

During the next term of office, the basic regulation will be revised again. Then, a new window opens for influencing the development of both the fishing industry and the environmental interests. Therefore, it is imperative that more forces now awakens and take responsibility.

The struggle for healthy and living seas continues!

Linnéa Engström is MEP for the Swedish Environmental Party. She is the first vice-chairman of the Committee on Fisheries, and alternates in the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality. In 2016 she debuted with the book "Climate Feminism" and last year her second book "Queen-fish - Prescriptions for a Sustainable Future" came. She was elected as MEP in 2014.

EDITORIAL NOTE: This text is a personal column. All opinions and other positions are the writer's.

Linnéa Engström

Member of the European Parliament