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Fisheries Brief No. 9: Responsibility rests with the fishery ministers

The EU Commission has issued its proposals for quotas for next year’s cod fishing in the Baltic Sea. This is a stage in the immense bureaucracy that we described in Fisheries Brief no. 6. But attempts to maintain vigorous cod stocks have failed. With a few exceptions, commercial fishing in the past 20 years has not managed to catch sufficient cod to meet the quotas. The stocks have been consistently overestimated, which is very serious.

fangst vs kvotText in chart: Catch in relation to cod quota

The proposal for quotas for next year’s cod fishing in the Baltic Sea gives us two examples of how the fisheries management process is governed by factors other than safeguarding stocks that have been hard hit by climate changes, eutrophication and overfishing.

antal ett aringa torskar

In the western stock, catches have fallen over the past 20 years, and last year the stock were judged to have fallen below biologically safe limits.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea’s (ICES) recommendations contain red warning signs for all criteria for which the stock is assessed.
In both 2016 and 2018 “recruitment” (one-year-old cod) is historically low. But in 2017 recruitment was unusually good, and therefore according to the EU Commission ready to be fished. It is proposed that the quota for 2019 be increased by 31 per cent, from around 5,600 tonnes to around 7,300 tonnes. The Commission also proposes that the ban on fishing during the spawning season be removed, i.e. a measure intended to protect the sensitive spawning and                       Text in chart: Number of one-year-old cod (Millions)
which in the long term will contribute to a vigorous stock.

forslagen torskkvotIn terms of the eastern stock, the Commission is proposing significantly higher quotas for 2019 than all the advisors and stakeholders who submit analyses and data. There are no signs of recovery, and several of the scientific criteria normally used for assessing the stock is entirely absent.

The proposed quotas differ by almost 100 per cent. All the parties involved are making their own interpretations of how to assess the condition of the cod stock, and how much fishing it can tolerate. With such unclear recommendations, the job of the fishery ministers of deciding on quotas will be increasingly complicated, with a heightened risk of arbitrary decisions.

The Commission and the fishery ministers should put the numbers exercise to one side and instead discuss concrete        Text in chart: Proposed cod quota. Bars from left: The EU
measures for saving the Baltic Sea cod. A number of                  Commission, the fishing industry, ICES and environmental
measures are required to save the Baltic Sea cod, but an           organisations. Numbers expressed in tonnes.
initial measure would be to stop all bottom trawling.

Everyone involved states that they follow the rules of the fisheries management model. Sweden’s fishery minister Sven-Erik Bucht says every year that he is satisfied with the Council of Ministers’ quota negotiations. Nevertheless, the situation for the Baltic Sea cod is getting worse every year.

This year, the Commission’s analysis and proposals for cod quotas are ill-founded and seem to lack any understanding of the cod stock´s crisis. Responsibility will therefore be huge when the fishery ministers meet on 15-16 October.

When the Swedish government anchors its position in the parliament’s EU committee, it will be a concrete test of those parties who declared before the election that they supported a ban on bottom trawling.

Click here to read previous Fisheries Briefs:
Fisheries Brief No. 1: How big is the fishing industry?
Fisheries Brief No. 2: Discards continue despite ban
Fisheries Brief No. 3: The Baltic Sea cod – a unique and isolated species
Fisheries Brief No. 4: The role of cod in the ecosystem
Fisheries Brief No. 5: Historically low catches of Baltic Sea cod
Fisheries Brief No. 6: Baltic Sea cod quotas
Fisheries Brief No. 7: Who is entitled to the fish?
Fisheries Brief No. 8: Is the Minister for Rural Affairs in charge of fishing matters?