Managing Baltic Cod – when will Baltfish and EU Council start using the tools made available by the 2013 reform?

Published on October 8, 2017

Today, Sunday 8 October, the Baltfish high-level group of civil servants will sit down and carve out the regional political compromise that will form the basis for fisheries ministers decision on Baltic Sea fishing qutoas 2018. The final decisions will be taken at the Agrifish council, 9-10 October. Any compromise made in Baltfish is very unlikely to be changed by the Council. However, are Baltfish recommendations, and thus de-facto decisions on quotas, based on – or consider – all relevant Articles of the Common Fisheries Policy?

The 2013 CFP reform can be seen as an integrated whole, where the parts fit together and support each other. And where focussing too much on one part can be not only suboptimal, but even counterproductive. It becomes obvious when applying the CFP to a particular problem. Take, for instance, the Baltic cod. It is in trouble. Still, or again, depending on how you look at it. Let us explain.

Article 2 says that the exploitation rate on the stock should be set at the level needed to reach biomass levels above “maximum sustainable yield” by 2020 at the latest. And that fisheries management should be based on the precautionary approach and the ecosystem-based approach.

Article 11 says that fishing policy should help reach the targets in, among others, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The connection with the MSFD suggests that bottom-trawling for cod should be restricted when and where it impacts on another aspect of the environmental status, sea floor integrity.

The combination of low stocks, and pressure from the industry for higher quotas or subsidies raises the question of if there may be an overcapacity. Under Article 22 overcapacity shall be addressed by the Commission and Member States.

Article 17 says that where there is over-capacity, capacity should primarily be reduced where the fishing is least sustainable, for example where the impact on the environmental status of the sea is the greatest. Sea-floor integrity again comes to mind.

Article 7 grants the right to adopt technical measures, which can include regulations on gear, on when and on where to fish.

Articles 41 and 42 about the funds for sustainable fishing, for example to help fishers adapt to changes or retrain.

Under articles 9 and 10 multiannual management plans should be adopted to address these kinds of issues in a structured, more long-term way. Articles 43-45 aim to ensure that stakeholders are involved in the process, which should improve both content and implementation.

Articles 36-39 provide for control and enforcement to ensure that rules on quotas or technical measures are also implemented in practise.

And article 18 gives more power to the Member States to adapt rules in an effective and efficient way to reach the goals of the CFP.

On paper, then, there is a large set of tools in the toolbox to achieve both a healthy marine environment and strong fish stocks, as well as a viable industry contributing to vibrant coastal communities.

But how skilled is the team using the tools – and what are their true targets?

The coming days meetings in the regional cooperative body BALTFISH and the Council in the first part of October may give us another indication.