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Fisheries Brief no. 11: Crucial year for Baltic cod

Swedish politicians must get involved in the process far earlier than a few days before the Council of Ministers in October. They must make it clear to officials what the priorities are. Our minister for fisheries must talk to colleagues from around the Baltic Sea to find political solutions.

During 2018 BalticSea2020 has invested significant resources in raising awareness among the public, politicians, the media and officials about the vulnerability of Baltic cod and the need for vigorous measures to preserve this species for future generations.

During the year we have seen how a number of political parties have changed or clarified their position on the cod issue and are now actively wants to help save cod populations. We have collected almost 70,000 names in support of our work and have 15,000 subscribers to our Fisheries Brief.

Despite all this good will and the efforts of a large number of players, cod numbers are continuing to suffer. 2019 is perhaps the last chance for the cod. Drastic action and political commitment are required to save the Baltic cod and to achieve the objective of sustainable fishing and good environmental status by 2020.
Baltic cod catches are now one tenth of what they were 10-15 years ago. The cod that are fished are small and weak and cannot be sold as fish for human consumption. The landing value is a few tens of millions and cod fishing employs a handful of fishermen in Sweden. Cod is about to lose its important role in the Baltic Sea ecosystem, having also lost its role as a fish for human consumption and thus its economic importance.


Yet the Commission and fisheries ministers from the EU continue as if nothing has happened. Quotas for 2019 were approved that were higher than had been proposed by all the consulted advisors and stakeholders. Quotas that are still not met in full because the stock has been overestimated and the landing prices are low. The Swedish government felt that praise for quick negotiations was more important than preserving the Baltic cod.

The long-winded process leading up to decisions about 2020’s fishing quotas begins in February. Fisheries ministers have shown that they can make extraordinary decisions to save other species and stocks. It is now time to do the same thing for Baltic cod.

EU fisheries must be sustainable and have good environmental status by 2020. This is regulated in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. To achieve this, there are management plans for various fish stocks. A political response to these will follow in 2019. There is a considerable risk of them being watered down and of important results being swept under the carpet.

In the autumn of 2018 the European Parliament rejected an attempt to postpone the objective of good environmental status until 2023 and the notion that socioeconomic considerations would override ecological measures such as a ban on fishing. There will be new negotiations in both the European Parliament and Member States during the year.

EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella wants to to show results at the end of his term, but instead contributes to disseminating misleading information when he claims that 7 out of 8 stocks in the Baltic Sea are being fished sustainably. He is only counting stocks for which scientific data is available. The Baltic cod is one of a number of species for which there is no data and therefore it is not included in the Commissioner’s account.

A political presence and action will be required in 2019 if the cod are to be saved.

Important events during the first half of 2019
The first quarter: The European Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers negotiate a management plan for “Western waters”.
The end of May: Scientific recommendation of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) for the Baltic Sea fishery.
The end of July: The Commission’s evaluation of the management plan for the Baltic Sea is submitted to the European Parliament.

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?
Fisheries Brief No. 9: Responsibility rests with the fishery ministers
Fisheries Brief No. 10: EU’s fisheries policy spectacle damages cod