The Baltic Sea Regional Advisory Council (BS RAC) held a seminar on ecosystem based management (EBM) in Gdynia, Poland, at which a series of experts reflected on the integration of science and policy, to form the basis for improved implementation of EBM within the Baltic.
It was noted that at the moment, facets of the ecosystem approach are already in place, such as achieving selectivity through gear regulations, having closed fishing areas and closed periods.
However, these have thus far been ad hoc policies, rather than a continuous process aimed at achieving long-term integrated management. This seminar aimed to facilitate a discussion amongst stakeholders regarding the needs and consequences of applying EBM to the Baltic.
Of particular importance is the need for fisheries management to comply with targets agreed under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), within which Member States have agreed for fish stocks to be in Good Environmental Status (GES) by 2020. A series of descriptors in the legislation define GES and provide a framework for what is expected by ecosystem-based management. The seminar concluded with a consensus over the importance of achieving GES in Baltic fisheries.
Given this background, the proposed multispecies management plan, covering sprat, herring and cod, will need to both ensure continued stock recovery for these species and be coherent with the MSFD. Stuart Reeves from the Commission and Paul Dengbol of ICES discussed the proposals for the multispecies plan in their presentations.
Reeves emphasised the need to be adaptive, hence they have chosen to mostly use the fishing mortality (F) values from single-species management in their proposals. Changes to these will affect the composition of the ecosystem, and a better science is needed to know whether higher yields could be sustainably generated. Dengbol stated that higher F values may leave only young fish in the ecosystem, which would be undesirable. Thus, F must be set to achieve GES and also our overarching political goals.
The current state of Baltic stocks was also discussed, with much focus on the eastern Baltic cod stock and the reasons behind why the cod is so thin. It has been thought that starvation may be the primary cause, but thin cods have also been found where food is abundant. The possibility that a sub population of large, fast growing cod have been eradicated was brought up as another possible explanation. Thus further research is needed to better understand the cause/causes behind the thinning of the cod.
It is believed that the high concentrations of cod in the south west Baltic is a consequence of an ecosystem dominated by young cod (with only a few old, fat and fecund fish). Cod are thought to be more capable of migrating northward when older, and as most cod currently spawn off Bornholm, the population is concentrated off the Polish coast. At the same time, the sprat population has migrated northward toward Bothnia. This may be an escape mechanism from predatory cod, and is seen as a factor contributing to the cod starving.
The EBM seminar will form the basis for the reform and further discussion on ecosystem based fisheries management within the BS RAC.