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The Baltic Sea – a model for Low Impact Fisheries?

Published: 08/10/2012

On 26-27 September, The Fisheries Secretariat (FISH) held a conference in Gdynia, Poland, looking at what further actions are needed in order to minimise the environmental impacts caused by fishing in the Baltic Sea. Solutions were discussed between stakeholders to facilitate the transition to low impact fishing, to pave the way for the Baltic to become a model region for low impact fishing practices.

Adapting fishing techniques has been given momentum by the CFP reform, with its focus on regionalisation (co-management), obtaining the maximum sustainable yield from fishing, the discard ban and efforts to improve selectivity, along with subsidy funding being made available for gear changes. These factors provide a clear context for the EU to shift toward low impact fishing, and it is hoped that the Baltic, with its clean fisheries and recovering stocks, can lead the way forward.

At the conference, the main conclusions on how to shift towards low impact fisheries were: more focus on regionalisation and co-management of fish stocks, information and knowledge sharing on best practices, incentives for fishermen to use best practices and techniques, better balance between different fleet segments within the industry and the flexibility to develop new gears. For this to take place there is a need for a clear political framework to be in place guiding the process.

The conference, held in partnership with WWF Sweden, was well attended with over 90 participants from a wide range of sectors; Fishermen, gear developers, scientists, NGO representatives, politicians and fishery managers. The first day included presentations of fishing gears and techniques that are currently used and possible shifts and modifications among these by Gustaf Almqvist (FISH). Gustaf gave an appraisal of currently used gears and their impacts upon the marine environment. He emphasised the need for more diverse fishing gears, a less rigid and more flexible approach to gear tests and development efforts and finally further studies on the ecological effects of different gears conducted in the Baltic Sea (e.g. bottom trawling habitat effects on the Baltic Sea floor).

Mike Park (White Fish Producers Association Limited) presented how Scottish fishermen, scientists and decision makers have cooperated to improve white fish stocks within the Scottish Conservation Credit Scheme. He highlighted the importance of fully documented catches, improved control systems (CCTV) and a reward system with fishing opportunities (effort), that is related to the degree of compliance of fishermen to a set of measures aiming to mitigate the negative effects of fishing. Reine Johansson (Chairman of the Baltic Sea Regional Advisory Council) presented his personal views on how to achieve a discard ban in the Baltic Sea and stressed that the same regulations had to be valid for all countries involved in Baltic fisheries, including Russia. He also stressed that there is a future need to improve the selectivity in the trawl sector and to increase the value of cod at the market, possibly by increasing the minimum size to 40 cm.

The coordinator of the LOT 1 project, an EU project on cod trawl selectivity, Hans Nilsson (Swedish University of Agricultural Science) gave an update on the latest developments within the project. The final presentations during the first day were given by Staffan Larsson (STPO) and Lars-Gunnar Lunneryd (Institute of Costal Research, SLU) who gave examples of low impact fisheries in action in the Baltic Sea. Staffan highlighted that by increasing the net mesh size to 128 mm, STPO fisherman catch larger sized fish of better quality (larger fish are more valuable and can be better utilised by the filleting industry), generating more money, their goal is to provide a stable supply of cod daily for the market. Lars-Gunnar presented his work on cod pots and seal safe pontoon traps illustrated by videos, emphasising their potential as a good complement to the current predominate fishing techniques. These fishing gears would likely improve selectivity within the target catch and also reduce bycatch. Cod pots may come to replace other gears, but they are most successful when the population is larger and found closer to coastal waters.

During the panel discussion, the panellists were asked, among others to explain what LIF means to them. For Eskild Kierkegaard (DTU Aqua) LIF is efficient fishing, where a better balance between different fishing techniques and less fishing pressure would lead to improved fish stocks, although this does not necessarily include improved selectivity (fishing on the whole size and age spectrum of fish). Christian Pusch (EMPAS) stressed that for him LIF needs to be in line with agreed marine directives, and not least the Habitat and Bird directives. For Jochen Bellebaum, expert on bird bycatch, LIF is to reduce the amount of gillnets in shallow waters during winter, and stressed the need to find bird safe gears that are efficient enough to be economical also in these areas. Sara Hornborg (The Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, SIK) working with life cycle analysis and fuel consumption, for her LIF means that all effects of fishing activities are considered. She stressed that fuel efficiency and habitat effects of bottom trawling often go hand in hand and that, already today, several measures could be taken into consideration such as pelagic otter doors (reduced bottom contact) and electric pulse beam trawls. Vessels could further be improved by becoming more energy efficient (e.g. new engines), similarly much of the fuel consumption is dependent on the behaviour of the fishermen (e.g. speed of the boat)

On a direct question from the moderator on how much of the fuel consumptions can be reduced in future trawls and in what time frame, Eskild Kirkegaard replied that with gear modifications such as new netting, lighter materials, and flying otter doors a 50% fuel reduction could be achieved within 10 years. Jochen Bellebaum was asked to give his view on possibilities to seasonally close areas; he explained that it is not a valid alternative to close the whole area in the Southern Baltic Sea (needed from a LIF bird bycatch perspective) due to the sheer size of the area combined with that the closure would need to last for close to half the year (which would coincide with the period of the year that is most important for coastal fisheries), closed areas should instead be limited to areas where the problem is most serious. Krzysztof Skora (Hel Marine Station, University of Gdansk) was asked about the most important measures to be taken to reduce bycatch of harbour porpoises. He replied that controls need to be improved and that the usage of so called pingers (scaring devices) should be mandatory for all gill net fishers in areas where harbour porpoises are likely to be found. Besides fishing, factors as harsh winters, pollution and noise pollution also threaten the survival of the species in the sensitive Baltic Sea ecosystem.

Presentations and the panel discussion of invited experts during the first day formed the basis for the World Café during the second day, where participants interactively discussed and sought agreement on actions for how to move towards low impact fisheries in the Baltic Sea. The wide range of participants (fishermen, gear developers, scientists, NGO representatives, politicians and fishery managers) allowed for broad and fruitful discussions leading to a set of concrete actions.

Besides focus on gears and selectivity, which made up large parts of the discussion during the first day, the second day was all about ways forward. Next steps on how to move towards low impact fisheries in the Baltic Sea were identified, with the top five actions forward being; to educate and exchange knowledge (among the scientific community and fishermen but also among fishermen from different countries and regions); to create and/or improve structures for management and dialogue among stakeholders; to explore local seal regulation; to set overarching targets for both conservation and fisheries to operationalise at a regional/local management along with the need for more research. Regionalisation moving towards local responsibility and local management and responsibilities of the fishermen were buzz words during the conversations.

Our aim if for the conference to be a starting point for closer collaboration between regional stakeholders, which we hope will forge links to ongoing work in the Baltic Sea region. The outcomes of the seminar will further be described and included in a report on Low Impact Fisheries in the Baltic Sea that currently is being produced by FISH.