Yesterday, the Commission announced proposals for the TACs and quotas of Baltic Sea fish stocks in 2014. These will be discussed at the BALTFISH meeting in Riga next week, and if a unanimous agreement is made by Member State representatives there, this would likely be rubber stamped at the October Council by all EU fisheries ministers.
The proposals for Baltic TACs concern five species: cod, herring, sprat, salmon and plaice. In all cases the Commission has based its proposals on the latest scientific advice, although where a multiannual management plan is in place this has taken precedence.
If the Commission proposals for the pelagic stocks, herring and sprat, are adopted, TACs will be set at FMSY levels for Baltic pelagic fisheries a year earlier than they are legally obliged to do so under the revised Common Fisheries Policy.
Of concern however, are the proposals for Bothnian herring in ICES subdivisions (SD) 30-31. According to ICES, the data for subdivision 30 (Bothnian Sea) includes “great uncertainty about the estimate” and considering that, an increase of less than the proposed 43 % would have better reflected the quality of the data available.
With regard to the Eastern and Western cod stocks, a 7 % increase and 15 % reduction have been proposed respectively as prescribed by the management plan. Moreover, the Commission proposes that a reduction in fishing effort takes place on both stocks, 8.5 % for the Eastern and 10 % for the Western, against suggestions put forward by the fishing industry.
The state of the larger Eastern stock has been improving. Fishing mortality has been reduced, while the spawning stock biomass has grown and although recruitment is impaired by long-term standards it has improved by more than a factor of two over the past decade.
That said discarding from the cod stock increased significantly during 2012, in particular for cod aged 4 and over. Moreover, the “skinny” Baltic fish phenomenon has led to growth rates for cod, herring and sprat all sharply declining over the past decade and more.
To this end, the Commission proposal to follow the management plan is sensible, even though the cod stock is larger than it has been for 20 years the condition of the fish is still poor and is concentrated in geographic locales rather than being spread throughout the Baltic.
With regard to proposals for the Western cod, FISH recommends for the Council to move away from the management plan as they did when setting the 2013 TAC. Fishing mortality should be set in line with an MSY transition target, to enable the Western stock to comply with the MSY objective in 2015.
As plaice is a data poor stock, the Commission has proposed a precautionary TAC of 3 002 tonnes. This would represent a reduction of just over 10% to this year’s quota, although the 2013 TAC decided upon by Council was over 26% higher than that recommended by ICES.
The proposed salmon TACs of 108 421 individuals in the main basin and 7 526 for SD 32 are in line with scientific advice; however, the Commission has neglected to provide information on how these quotas would be implemented.
For salmon in the main basin, ICES have stated that this TAC is dependent upon measures which ensure that misreporting of salmon for sea trout and illegal fishing are halted; otherwise the TAC should not exceed 78,000 individuals. FISH supports this proposal as it is important to end misreporting and illegal fishing, and correct landing data is essential for the provision of accurate advice.
Moreover, for salmon in SD 32, the ICES advice is to have no targeted fishery on wild stocks. No explicit mention is made in the Commission proposal as to whether the TAC is only applicable to reared salmon, and continued fishing on wild stocks in this area threatens several weak populations.
In all, the Commission proposals are science-based and continue the positive trend of recent years. However, we advise the Council to move away from the cod management plan for the Western stock and also to ensure that efforts are made to improve the quality of data in particular with regard to Bothnian herring and plaice.