The Council decided on the 24th October on the levels of TACs (Total Allowable Catch), the level of agreed fishing in the Baltic for 2007. The decision is a 10% reduction of the TAC for the eastern Cod stock (from 45 339 in 2006 to 40 805 tonnes in 2007) and a 5% reduction of the western stock (from 28 400 in 2006 to 26 696 tonnes in 2007).
In June 2006, ICES recommended a closure of the eastern Baltic cod stock and a 10% reduction of the TAC for the western stock. The European Commission proposed a 15% reduction of both stocks in line with the proposed but not yet adopted multi-annual plan for the cod stocks in the Baltic Sea.
The eastern cod stock is at a historic low and shows no sign of recovery, which was already true for last year’s stock level, and it has since decreased yet another 15 %. According to the Basic Regulation (2371/2002) the Council shall adopt, as a priority, recovery plans for fisheries exploiting stocks which are outside safe biological limits (Chapter 2, article 5). Since the eastern cod stock is clearly outside of safe biological limits, the Council should have adopted the multi-annual plan before deciding on the TACs. ICES estimate that a SSB of 160,000 tonnes is a level below which there is a high risk that the numbers of mature fish will seriously decline and the stock could collapse. ICES estimate that even if there was no fishing at all next year the stock would not recover to this level.
The Commission proposed TACs are based on the assumption that the multi-annual plan is in place in it’s current state. Meaning that the control and enforcement is working, that IUU (illegal, unregulated and unreported) fishing is close to zero, and that a multi-annual effort reduction scheme is in place and functioning. In reality IUU currently constitute more than 35 % of Baltic cod landings, and the multi-annual plan has still not been adopted. However the agreement on cod has been made conditional to the adoption of a long-term cod recovery plan for the Baltic Sea by the end of June 2007. The Council decision is a compromise on the TAC level, it’s somewhat a compromise of a compromise, even if the multi-annual plan will not be subject to even further weakening compromises.
The Commission proposal for TACs are also under the condition that the fishing mortality, called F (the proportion of the population killed each year by fishing), will move from the current level of 1.11 in 2006 for the eastern stock (meaning that more cod is fished than the natural recruitment) to 0.3. An F at 0.3 would mean a real chance of recovery. At the current exploitation rate, F = 1.11, means that the chance of recovery is very low and in fact means that the stock will decrease even further. The 2003 year class is relatively strong, so a real reduction in F would probably result in a faster recovery.
The Commission published a communication in July 2006. It is a policy statement on the fishing opportunities for 2006 where the Commission sets out some guiding principles. One of them is the following: ”Economic and social sustainability depends on biological sustainability: there are no fisheries where there are no fish. The Commission therefore places biological sustainability at the heart of decision-making in fisheries.”
The Council Decision also includes a compromise on effort reduction. A 10% reduction of the days at sea compared to 2006 will be attempted. However there are major problems with the control of the days-at-sea regime, there are therefore fears that the effort management in the Baltic may not work at all due to severe failings in the control systems. It may therefore not become an effort reduction at all.
One of the reasons for the sad state of the eastern cod stock is the high level of IUU. ICES have estimated that the level of IUU is higher than 35-40 %. The Council and Commission will address this in a joint statement. The Baltic RAC, Regional Advisory Council, is arranging a conference on IUU in late March 2007.
By failing to show the will to recover the eastern cod stock, the Council has compromised the future of Baltic cod fishing by not sufficiently taking into account the Commissions considerations, the Scientists proposals and the stakeholders’ interests.