ICES advice: Baltic cod in dire straits again

Published on May 30, 2014

The scientific advice for Baltic Sea stocks was released earlier today. Because of the gradually deteriorating condition of cod in the Baltic, the eastern stock is now classified as data-limited and severe cuts in fishing possibilities are proposed for both cod stocks.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) released its advice for 2015 for Baltic Sea fish stocks earlier today. Many will be surprised to see that Baltic Sea cod, which is managed as two separate stocks, is judged to have deteriorated greatly in recent years. The largest, eastern stock was close to collapse in 2002, but has since then recovered strongly and was assessed as doing well just a couple of years ago.

Today, due to deteriorating environmental conditions and food availability, the cod is skinny and growth poor, making a proper assessment of the eastern stock impossible. ICES has therefore classified it as data-limited, and the advice is to abandon the long-term management plan for both stocks in place since 2007 to enable stricter measures.

Herring is doing much better and increases in all quotas are advised, whereas sprat continues to decline – a catch decrease of 17 per cent is proposed. For salmon, the advice is similar to last year. Flatfishes in the Baltic seem to be on the increase and an increase for the only species under EU quota – plaice – is proposed for both areas.

ICES advice for 2015 in summary:

  • Western cod: commercial catches < 8 793 tonnes in 2015, including estimated discards – a 53 % decrease.
  • Eastern cod: total catches < 29 085 tonnes, including estimated discards – a 56 % decrease.
  • Central Baltic herring: total catches < 193 000 tonnes – an 18 % increase (including Russia).
  • Gulf of Riga herring: total catches < 34 300 tonnes – a 32.9 % increase.
  • Herring in the Bothnian Sea: catches < 181 000 tonnes – an increase of 22 %.
  • Herring in the Bothnian Bay: total catches < 5 534 tonnes – an increase of 20 %.
  • Western Baltic herring: a  “wanted catch” of < 44 439 tonnes an increase of 7 % in “wanted catch”. The resulting total catch cannot be quantified and it is unclear how the Commission will handle the new “catch quotas” when bycatch and discards data are poor.
  • Sprat: total catch < 222 000 tonnes – a 17 % decrease.
  • Salmon in the Main Basin and the Gulf of Bothnia: a total commercial sea catch < 116 000 salmon, including estimated discards of 11 %. This would imply a total catch of 180 000 individuals, when adding recreation catches at sea (17 000 salmon) and river-based catches (47 000 salmon).
  • Salmon in Gulf of Finland: No catches of wild salmon and measures to minimise the bycatch of wild salmon. Nevertheless, a fishery of 11 800 salmons, essentially based on restocking.
  • Plaice: a “wanted catch” in SD 21–23 of < 2 626 tonnes (landings in 2013 was 1 955 tonnes) and of < 886 tonnes in SD 24–32 (landings in 2013 was 738 tonnes).

For more information see FISH briefing on Baltic stock advice for 2015 and ICES Baltic stock advice for 2015 below.