Fishing for cod in the western Baltic Sea is prohibited during the spawning season, which is all of February and March. However, the German administration allowed for a new flatfish fishery with a permissible 10% cod bycatch during the closed period. Denmark then followed suit. As a result there is now increased fishing pressure on a stock that is below the lowest biomass reference point and has been overfished for many years.
Eight NGOs from across the Baltic region and Europe have now written to the Commission to ask them to close the flatfish fishery as a result of the bycatch of cod that will now take place during the spawning closure.
The decision to open up the flatfish fishery and allow for spawning cod to be caught was seemingly taken without consultation of the other Member States involved in the fishery. Given that Germany is the current Chair of BALTFISH it raises questions over how well regionalised fishery management is working.
In recent years the Commission has taken a backseat in order to allow regionalisation to take place and provide Member States with the ability to take decisions at a devolved level. However, such unilateral measures which numb the positive benefits of the spawning season closure represent a threat to the future health of the stock.
Not only has the western Baltic cod stock being overfished and has a biomass so low that quotas are capped under a lower limit but recruitment (juvenile fish maturing) for last year was the lowest ever recorded.
The Commission were never informed over the decision to open up the new fishery, only learning of it after the Danish government put out a press release, and seemingly neither was the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA).
Letters have also been sent to the German and Danish governments questioning their decision.