Danish failure in the Baltic Sea – fishermen and cod decline together

Published on May 23, 2017

New financial figures released from the Danish cod fleet operating in the Baltic Sea in the first quarter of 2017 show the socioeconomic problems of overfishing a stock to heavily depleted levels of biomass. Despite a 12% rise in the price of cod this year, turnover has declined by 22%.

As underlined at the recent European Parliament seminar on fisheries biomass, managing stocks above Bmsy values has significant positive benefits in both environmental and socioeconomic terms. In contrast, when a stock falls below Blim, such as western Baltic cod, the reverse is true.

The Danish fleet operating in the Baltic Sea reported a net loss every year between 2008-2013, and while subsequent figures are not available this year’s information is indicative that the cod stock is not in a healthy enough state to support the socioeconomic demands upon it. Until the biomass improves and fishing mortality is reduced, and this will likely mean cutting quotas even further in the coming years, this fleet segment will continue to struggle.

Western Baltic cod has been heavily overfished for many years. The STECF report released earlier in April this year showed that the quota for this stock is 3.37 times greater than Fmsy (F/Fmsy). However, the CFP outlines that all stocks should be fished below Fmsy by 2020 at the latest. This means that in order to comply with the CFP, quotas for the next two years for western Baltic cod will likely be further significant cuts.

The cumulative effect of overfishing has long-term socioeconomic effects for the fishers and communities dependent on these stocks. The three EU member states fishing this stock: Denmark, Germany and Sweden all introduced additional compensatory measures in response to the 56% cut that was agreed for this year’s quota. This cut, while significant, also meant that overfishing continues and was well in excess of the level recommended by scientists and the European Commission.

Denmark and Germany both offered direct compensatory subsidies to the affected fishers, whereas Sweden allocated all their quota to fishers operating passive gears who do not have the possibility to fish in waters further afield.

These measures, however, do not solve the overarching issue which is that long-term overfishing has depleted the stock to such an extent that quotas need to be cut in order to comply with legislation.

Despite this the Danish Fisheries Producer Organisation, DFPO, representing Danish fishers, have been ignoring the dangers of overfishing and proposed quotas for western Baltic cod higher than scientific advice every year for the past 10 years. The result is that their members are now facing an uphill struggle to survive in the business.