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Fisheries Brief no. 14: The system that fools itself

The situation facing the Baltic cod is so severe that this could be our last chance to ensure that the stock recovers; otherwise it will be destroyed (see Fisheries Brief no. 12).

A great many researchers, bureaucrats and politicians spends the year analysing, providing evidence and making decisions on fishing quotas, for species like cod. Despite this, management of the Baltic cod has failed, and the crisis has deepened year after year. Efforts have instead had the opposite effect, slowing up and preventing the drastic measures that were needed a long time ago.

EUs fiskefrvaltning
Schematic drawing of EU fisheries management.

Sweden has an extensive Baltic coast with numerous coastal communities where cod fishing has historically been of great significance. The government has lofty ambitions when it comes to environmental and maritime affairs. That is why it has to be the Minister for Rural Affairs who takes the initiative. We shouldn’t believe that someone else will do it.

This is why Baltic cod management is failing:

1. The scientific advice has persistently lacked essential data that has raised red flags which should long since have led to drastic action. Nevertheless, quotas, that are too high to be caught, have continued to be allocated. It is probable that the stock’s ability to recover and reproduce has been overestimated for some time, while the impact of external factors has been grossly underestimated.

2. Environmental protection lacks measures against overfishing. When the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM) reports on Sweden’s environmental objectives, the majority of fish stocks in the Baltic Sea, e.g. cod, will not achieve good environmental status. However, SwAM notes that the fishery is subject to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which also takes into consideration socioeconomic factors, meaning that fishing is still allowed to continue.

3. Stakeholders’ advisory bodies have a majority of professional fishermen. These Regional Advisory Councils (for the Baltic Sea: BSRAC) have in recent years proposed significantly larger quotas than the scientific recommendation and have asserted their right to fish regardless of the consequences for the environment and fisheries.

4. EU Commissioner Vella is misleading people. Last year the Commission proposed higher quotas than any stakeholder group, including commercial fishing, perhaps due to a bureaucratic misunderstanding. EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella defends the professional fishermen and claims that fishing in the Baltic Sea is for the most part sustainable by interpreting the statistics in a misleading manner.

5. The possibilities of regionalisation have not been realised. The BALTFISH high-level group, which aims to assert the interests of the Baltic Sea region, has instead become another meeting place for fishery bureaucrats and a channel for communication ahead of the Council of Ministers.

6. The tactics of Sweden’s fisheries ministers have failed. Sweden’s former fisheries ministers, from Eskil Erlandsson to Sven Erik Bucht, have argued that they have successfully influenced the system. Sven Erik Bucht was, for four years, always satisfied with the Council of Ministers’ quota negotiations.

Sweden’s Minister for Rural Affairs Jennie Nilsson, who is now responsible for fisheries policy, must choose a different strategy than her predecessors to save the Baltic cod. She must be active throughout the process, prepare long-term proposals for action and not be fooled by other players who want to maintain the current system for management of the Baltic cod. Otherwise it may be too late.

Cod catches and Swedish fisheries ministers.

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
Fisheries Brief No. 11: Crucial year for Baltic cod
Fisheries Brief No. 12: Continued cod fishing is harmful
Fisheries Brief No. 13: List of measures for the Swedish Minister for Rural Affairs