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Fisheries Brief no. 21: Good decisions – but the fish in the Baltic Sea require a long-term solution

The decisions made by EU fisheries ministers at their meeting in mid-October were generally good ones as far as the Baltic cod is concerned. However, there are some short-term issues still to resolve, and there is a great need for a new doctrine in the longer term.

The Council of Ministers’ decisions
This time, the Baltic cod crisis was clearly presented by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the Commission, which also repeatedly drew attention to the applicable laws, directives and agreements that the ministers risked violating. The Commission’s groundwork, together with a very clear agenda from Sweden and Finland, which holds the presidency of the Council of the EU, completely altered the situation for the Council of Ministers. Countries that did not want to follow the scientific recommendations stood alone.


The good decisions
A ban on targeted cod fishing in the eastern stock.
A significantly reduced quota for the western stock.
Fishing bans during the spawning season.

The fisheries ministers did their usual thing and tinkered with the decisions: slightly larger quotas, a slightly shorter closure period, a few more fish for recreational fishermen, etc. However, they showed more restraint in this respect than in previous years.



utropstecken To keep an eye on
The Council of Ministers agreed a by-catch quota of 2,000 tonnes of cod for the eastern stock,
but still questioned ICES about the sort of by-catch quota that researchers think the eastern
cod stock can support. There is a risk that the quota will be raised when it is reviewed in December.



Less favourable decisions and a lack of decision
For some stocks, ministers agreed quotas above the Commission’s proposals and the
scientific recommendations. The Council of Ministers does not take sufficient account of the
interaction between different fish stocks. They ought to have agreed to move fishing for
herring and sprat away from cod spawning areas, which is precisely the ecosystem approach
that the Common Fisheries Policy advocates for fisheries management.

fisk i nt fiskeb 21

The Council of Ministers also decided to do away with all requirements for electronic control
measures on board fishing vessels. Fisheries controls are a particular problem. Although
discard bans were introduced in 2015, no effective control measures have yet been put in place.
Some time ago it was revealed that Swedish fishermen were extensively misreporting herring and
sprat catches. Without control measures, many of the Council of Ministers’ decisions become
ineffective. A great deal of responsibility for the lack of control of Swedish fishing vessels falls
on the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM).



The road to a new fisheries policy for the Baltic Sea
The Council of Ministers’ decision on cod fishing is a small step on the road to a new approach to fishing in the Baltic Sea, but it was taken under the threat of an imminent stock collapse. The pressure from the fishing industry to allow cod fishing in 2021 will be immense. There is a significant risk that the Council of Ministers will be swayed without long-term measures or decisions having been taken. This fish stock and the Baltic Sea environment need a brand new management doctrine.

The Commission pointed out prior to this year’s quota decisions that the Council of Ministers is obliged to comply with the laws and agreements that it put in place. The Common Fisheries Policy, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Baltic Sea Action Plan all have targets for sustainable fishing by 2020 and 2021.

Within the scope of applicable legislation, ministers and other politicians have plenty of opportunity to deliver sustainable fishing:

  • Politicians must both understand and follow the scientific recommendations; they are not just another proposal up for negotiation.
  • Fish stocks interact ecologically and cannot be used as pawns to satisfy various stakeholders as part of a compensatory approach.
  • The Swedish government must tighten up the requirements for SwAM and other authorities to ensure that the measures adopted are also implemented. The discard ban must be maintained, and deficiencies in fisheries controls need to be addressed urgently.
  • The Swedish government also needs to adapt SwAM’s mandate to ensure that environmental considerations are given greater priority in fisheries policy. Obsolete approaches must be weeded out.
  • Politicians and stakeholders need to learn more about the composition and size of the Baltic Sea fishery, the conflict between large-scale trawling and small-scale fishing with passive gears, with the latter being more sustainable and creating greater value.
  • Within the framework of current legislation, Sweden can extend trawling limits and support small-scale fishing in other ways.

The right time for a new doctrine for fishing in the Baltic Sea
It is clear that the EU’s fishing rules are incapable of delivering sustainable fishing that meets the criteria for good environmental status in the Baltic Sea. The regionalisation that was introduced in the Common Fisheries Policy is an opportunity to develop a fisheries management system adapted to the Baltic Sea that takes a clearer ecosystem approach. For this to happen, the Baltic countries must make more active use of the regional bodies in order to establish their own initiatives for a long-term sustainable fisheries policy. The serious situation facing cod and several other stocks ought to be a strong enough reason for more active regional management. Such an opportunity is provided by the evaluation of the multiannual management plan for the Baltic Sea, BSMAP.

The Baltic Sea is a species-poor inland sea with a very fragile ecology. Both the Swedish parliament and government and the European Parliament, together with the Commission in Brussels, should take the initiative to adapt the plan. Some changes that should be made:

  • Fishing in the Baltic Sea must take particular account of the local ecology. The Swedish government should ask the Commission and ICES what changes should be made to adapt the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy to reflect the special conditions that exist in the Baltic Sea.
  • Recovery takes time, which is why long-term decisions are needed that do not give fisheries ministers the opportunity to engage in annual horse trading on quotas.
  • A ban on bottom trawling for cod and bans on large-scale industrial fishing and fishing where the catch is primarily not intended for human consumption.
  • The Marine Strategy Framework Directive’s criteria for good environmental status must be the guiding principle for fisheries, not the maximum sustainable yield, which takes more account of the needs of commercial fishing than it does the environment.
  • For the cod stock, these criteria must be supplemented with other measures, to ensure stocks achieve normal growth, size and age composition before fishing is permitted once more.

Hopefully, the Council of Ministers’ meeting in October signalled the start of a new chapter for the Baltic Sea fisheries policy. It is now a case of building on this momentum to ensure that decisions are not reversed next year. Save the Baltic Sea Cod will continue to propose tangible solutions and turn the spotlight on those who do not put the Baltic Sea environment first. 

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
Fisheries Brief no. 16: Navigating the hidden perils of the fisheries policy
Fisheries Brief no. 17: Prioritise the environment over a handful of jobs
Fisheries Brief no. 18: The Commission proposes a zero quota
Fisheries Brief no. 19: Recovery takes time
Fisheries Brief no. 20: Crucial decisions in the short and long term