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Improving selectivity on Baltic cod trawlers

Published: 21/06/2012

On 24-25 May, a seminar on how to develop more selective gears in the Baltic demersal trawl fishery was held in Karlskrona, Sweden. The seminar was hosted by the EU funded LOT 1 project which aims to develop more selective trawls through collaboration between fishermen and scientists.

Scientists from Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Poland are responsible for running the project, and the main objectives are to minimise discards and bycatch by developing solutions to improve selectivity in cod trawls without increasing mesh sizes.

At the seminar, the projects two main results were presented. A survey among fishermen about views on protected areas, regulations, discards and gear selectivity and secondly a desktop study trying to compile available knowledge and data about discards.

In the survey most fishermen saw a need for fishing gear regulations, and expressed different opinions on the magnitude of how much is discarded and the possibility to minimise discards (most of them thought that discard rates in the order of 5-10% were acceptable).

The desktop study of the Baltic cod trawling fishery showed that the bulk of the Eastern cod population constitutes of smaller individuals (72% are between 30 and 48 cm) and that discards are significantly higher in so called hot-spot areas, in which 25% of the fishing occurs.

Results from the project could help to assist the transition to discard-free fishing, which is foreseen in proposals for the CFP reform. The proposed landing obligation has been much negotiated during the reform, and it is clear that without improved selectivity fishermen will lose money by having to land undersized juveniles, while they also may not have enough quota to legally land all that they catch. For example, plaice quotas are not held by several countries in the Baltic, but these will have to be landed by fishermen once a discard ban is in place.

In the Baltic, increases in flatfish populations, particularly flounder, have caused problems for trawl selectivity by blocking the cod ends. This prevents juvenile cods from escaping the nets and large numbers are discarded as a result. It is hoped that the LOT 1 project finds solutions which will improve trawl selectivity and enable fishermen to adapt to the discard ban. However, it seems more likely that the result will merely lead to calls for further research as the project has failed to attract a large portion of the Baltic cod trawl fishery, currently participants are mostly confined to Sweden.