Text: Henrik Hamrén
Reduced fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea next year
The closure of the eastern Baltic cod fishery will continue next year, following the Council's decision on Tuesday. In addition, both the western and the central Baltic herring fisheries will be greatly reduced.
The decision on next year's total allowable catches (TACs) for the ten most commercially important fish stocks in the Baltic Sea was presented by the EU Council of Ministers early on Tuesday morning, after less than 24 hours of negotiations.
– Based on a Swedish position, I am very pleased with the outcome of the negotiations, said Minister of Rural Affairs Jennie Nilsson (S) to TT and Ekot immediately after the negotiations in Luxembourg.
In particular, she was pleased that most TACs came close to or entirely in line with the Commission's previous proposals.
The largest deviation was for the western cod stock, for which the TAC was increased by five percent (to 4,000 tonnes) despite the Commission wanting to see a reduction of 11 percent.
At the same time, the Council followed the scientific advice to continue the closure of all targeted cod fishing on the eastern stock, and reduce the allowable by-catch by 70% to only 595 tonnes.
– The recent decline in eastern cod is due to lower productivity. In science, there are different opinions about exactly why productivity is low, but regardless, it is good that fishing on this stock has stopped, says Henrik Svedäng, fisheries researcher at the Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre.
Almost in line with scientific advice
This year around, the Council of Ministers also followed ICES scientific recommendations for most – but not all. – stocks. For western Baltic herring, ICES advocated zero-catch since the stock is considered overfished and in risks of collapse. However, the ministers contented themselves with a sharp Tac reduction to 1,575 tonnes for next year.
– Since the ministers followed the scientific advice to such an extent this time, the question will instead be how well-informed the scientific advice really is, or if it is too little too late says Henrik Svedäng.
The decline is staggering
In parallel with the growing crisis for Baltic cod, several of the herring stocks have shown very worrying signs in recent years. For the central Baltic herring stock, spawning biomass (the amount of sexually mature fish) has fallen sharply, while fishing mortality over the past five years has been above the limit values for a maximum sustainable catch (FMSY).
– And seen from a longer time perspective, the decline is staggering, from over two million tonnes in the 1970s to less than 0.5 million tonnes now, says Henrik Svedäng.
The decline up to the 1990s can be linked to both fishing pressure and reduced individual growth in herring, caused by increased food competition with sprat.
– Over the past five years, fishing has been too high, says Maciej Tomzcak, researcher at the Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre.
He points out that today's central Baltic herring stock is supported by a single strong year class (fish born in 2014) – which is now coming to an end. Therefore, both the Commission and ICES recommended a 36% reduction in the TAC for the central Baltic herring – and this time the Council followed.
The fisheries policy is not appropriate
Cod, herring and sprat have long been the dominant commercial fish species in the Baltic Sea. Almost a year ago, the Commission pulled the emergency brake on eastern cod, and the risk of collapse is still acute. Meanwhile, the warning signals for herring are becoming more worrying every year, while the largest proportion of catches now go to animal feed and fishmeal.
Something seems to have gone very wrong. The question is: what? And when fishing is now adjusted in line with the scientific recommendations - does that mean that stocks will recover?
– The fisheries policy for the Baltic Sea is not appropriate, says Henrik Svedäng.
He welcomes that the "brakes" in the system, such as fishing bans and reduced quotas, are finally being used. But the inability to deal with the challenging environmental situation in the Baltic Sea, and the complicated relationships between different species, is still a major problem.
– The declining herring stocks and the increase in sprat will probably affect salmon and cod, among other things. I do not think we should expect a recovery in the coming years, but rather an uneven road ahead, or even a steep one, he says.
Lack of a more ecosystem-based focus
His colleague Maciej Tomczak also does not believe in a quick and miraculous recovery. But he still believes in the potential of the EU fisheries policy to reverse today's negative trends, he says Especially if the Council continue to follow ICES advice more strictly.
– In my opinion, the fisheries policy is still relevant. But it is not implemented efficiently and correctly. One major problem is that it does not take sufficient account of environmental challenges, another is that there is a lack of a more ecosystem-based focus, he says.
TACs for Baltic Sea fisheries 2021 (difference from last year)
Bothnian herring: 65 018 tonnes (+/-0)
Western herring: 1 575 tonnes (-50%)
Central herring: 97 551 tonnes (-36%)
Herring in the Gulf of Riga: 39 446 tonnes (+15%)
Eastern Baltic cod: only by-catch, 595 tonnes (-70%)
Western Baltic cod: 4 000 tonnes (+5%)
Plaice: 6 894 tonnes (+/-0)
Sprat: 222 958 tonnes (+6%)
Salmon in the Baltic proper: 94 496 salmons (+9%)
Salmon in the Gulf of Finland: 8 883 salmons (-8%)
The Russian share (around 10 percent) of the Baltic Sea TACs are excluded. In ICES advice the Russian shares are included.