STECF gives DFPO rebuff on spatial fisheries closures

Published on February 7, 2017

Over the past year the Danish Fishermen’s Producer Organisation, DFPO, has successfully been advocating to open up the western Baltic cod fishery during February and March. Their main argument has been a lack of scientific evidence that closures has a positive effect on the fish stocks, but without providing such data. Now The Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) concludes that spatial closures benefit both increase spawning stock biomass and decrease fishing mortality.

In October, the Council of Ministers set a highly controversial quota for western Baltic cod that was 510% higher than that recommended by scientists. While this represented a significant cut to the previous year’s quota, Ministers justified not following scientific advice by citing socio-economic factors.

On the January 23 the Council decided on an amending regulation with the aim of providing support to coastal fishermen, on the basis of advice provided by The Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF).

During February and March every year the western Baltic cod fishery is closed as a protection measure for the fish during their spawning season. However, in 2017 vessels under 15 metres operating at a depth of less than 20 metres will be allowed to fish throughout the spawning season if they are fitted with a vessel monitoring system (VMS) and are not a pair trawler.

Despite good intentions, whether this measure helps small-scale fishermen remains to be seen. Brian O’Riordan of Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE) tweeted that the amendment “opens fragile areas and stocks to destructive rockhopper . (Rockhoppers are devices that make it possible to trawl on a seabed where conventional trawls risk getting stuck, making it difficult to trawl there. These areas are also often popular fishing grounds for passive gear fishers.)

Wolfgang Albrecht, a fisherman from the Association of Fisheries Protection in Schleswig-Holstein, has found that the amendment has resulted in a flood of both trawlers and gillnetters in the narrow body of water. Later in the year the cod are closer to the shore so the vessel segments are not in conflict with one another, but because of the lower temperatures in February the catching grounds are now overloaded and gillnets have been destroyed by rockhoppers operating in the crowded waters.

The usefulness of such a closure during spawning season has been much debated within the Baltic Sea Advisory Council (BSAC). Representatives from the Danish Fishermen’s Producer Organisation (DFPO) have repeatedly insisted that closures are not beneficial for fish stocks. When asked for scientific proof backing up these statements DFPO-representatives replied that “the scientists are working to put a report together”. For six months they have been pressed to show some sort of evidence but have still failed to provide and publish any documentation supporting this.

Now these claims have been knocked on the head by the STECF in their report, “Special request for evaluating Baltic cod additional measures”, who state that “the spatial closure appears greatly beneficial to the western Baltic cod stock (increased spawning stock biomass and lower fishing mortality)”.

The Fisheries Secretariat, FishSec, welcome such clarity from the scientific community and hope that the BSAC and its members accept this fact and end the discussion – unless DFPO provide evidence to the contrary.

Of particular concern from the STECF report is their expectation that illegal discarding will persist into 2017, four years after the landing obligation was passed into law.

Their models indicate that discarding causes many problems for both Baltic cod stocks, and the “STECF notes that if TAC and landing obligation are fully enforced, the effort displacements would be more limited and there would be no such detrimental effect on eastern Baltic cod”.

Instead, they state that failure to implement the landing obligation means more juvenile cod will be thrown back to the sea, dead, before they have the opportunity to spawn. They conclude that this will lead to more rapid stock decline. Furthermore, increased fuel consumption and pollution will result from this lack of control. Moreover, consumers and fishermen themselves will also suffer because of reduced landings, catch volume and lower revenue.

The STECF report shows that the failure to control and enforce the landing obligation is an ongoing disaster that the fishing industry, control agencies and member states need to address in 2017.