Search press releases

Fisheries Brief no. 16: Navigating the hidden perils of the fisheries policy

June has been an eventful month for both the fisheries policy and the Baltic cod. Since the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) published its recommendation for next year’s fishing quotas for Baltic cod, there has been a flurry of activity among politicians and other officials. An evaluation of the multiannual management plans (MAPs) is ongoing in parallel with this, and the Commission has approved a communication on fishing opportunities for 2020, which also covers Baltic cod.

Ministers Isabella Lövin and Jennie Nilsson promised in their opinion editorial that “More action is needed as far as cod is concerned than just selective measures. A holistic approach is required – management that takes into account the ecosystem.” It is difficult to judge how this work is being pursued; perhaps because it is not being tackled as forcefully as it should be. Sweden has, during its presidency of BALTFISH, failed to convince a majority of the Baltic countries to support either short-term or long-term measures to protect the Baltic cod.

fiskebrief 16 bild

No consensus among the Baltic countries
At a BALTFISH meeting on 3-4 June, Sweden, as president, presented proposals for immediate emergency measures to protect the now heavily endangered Baltic cod. Sweden also set out the need for long-term measures. While the proposal received a certain amount of support from some countries, a consensus could not be reached.

Action from Members of the Riksdag
The Riksdag’s Environment and Agriculture Committee was informed early on about the crisis facing the Baltic cod. ICES representatives have presented their recommendation to the Committee. The Swedish Minister for Rural Affairs Jennie Nilsson also met with the Committee on one occasion. The Committee on European Union Affairs also discussed the issue prior to the Council of Ministers for Agriculture and Fisheries. This is unusual but positive. Hopefully, members from many of the political parties can keep the issue front and centre, because it needs to be!

Council of Ministers for Fisheries
The EU’s agriculture and fisheries ministers met on 18 June. At this meeting, the Commission set out the principles for work on the forthcoming quota proposals. Minister for Rural Affairs Jennie Nilsson reiterated Sweden’s support for a zero quota next year. She also expressed the expectation that the Commission make a quick decision on an emergency ban on cod fishing in the Baltic Sea during 2019.

The Commission on fishing in 2020
The Commission describes as progress the fact that 95 per cent of fishing in the Baltic Sea is under quotas in line with a sustainable yield (MSY). However, as industrial fishing for herring and sprat dominates, now that cod catches are one-tenth of what they have been, it does not mean that almost all fishing in the Baltic Sea is sustainable, as Commissioner Vella suggests. He used statistics in the same misleading manner last year when he claimed that seven out of eight stocks, “where complete scientific advice is available”, are fished sustainably. In claiming that, he is ignoring the stocks, including Baltic cod for example, where there is an absence of scientific data. It is important for ministers and other politicians to be aware of this. Aggregate or misleading statistics ought not to conceal crises affecting individual stocks or species.

Evaluation of the multiannual management plan for the Baltic Sea
The failure to protect Baltic cod should suffice as a reason to evaluate the management plan. The Baltic Sea Advisory Council (BSAC) is clear in its response to the Commission’s circulation for comment: “The multiannual management plans have not meant more sustainable fishing and have not helped to solve the difficult issues of cod in the eastern and western stocks. The multiannual management plans have not contributed to regional cooperation.”

What has been considered an important part of fisheries management is thus condemned by all stakeholders in BSAC, from fishermen to environmental organisations.

The art of avoiding hidden perils
The Swedish government must be aware that there are powerful forces defending the current management system, even as species face obvious threats.

If there is to be a healthy cod stock in the Baltic Sea in the future and if we want to avoid weakening the Baltic Sea ecosystem, then Isabella Lövin and Jennie Nilsson have to follow through on their opinion editorial. They have to navigate special interests and make sure they are not fooled by misleading statistics or misinformation. They have to hold their course throughout until the Commission and the Council of Ministers take the holistic approach needed to save the Baltic cod.

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
Fisheries Brief no. 14: The system that fools itself
Fisheries Brief no. 15: Good job government! Now the real work begins