After the longest negotiation in a decade the EU Member States reached a compromise on Baltic fishing quotas, early morning on 10 October. Baltic Cod will continue to be overfished next year compared to ICES advice. Fishing for the critically endangered European eel continues, but an EU-wide prohibition will be discussed ahead of the December council.
For the pelagic stocks, herring and sprat, Ministers agreed to quotas marginally under the maximum allowable catch. A 10% cut of the plaice quota was half that proposed by the Commission. The salmon quotas saw slight reductions, although both TACs were set in excess of ICES recommendations.
Eel will be discussed again ahead of the December Council and there was some support for the fishery to be closed amongst Baltic countries, where eel catches are the highest reported in the EU, in tonnes. While fishing at sea is far from the only threat to the species, closing the fishery will help the stock to recover from its currently endangered status.
From an ecosystem perspective, the quota decisions have not been kind to the cod stocks. With pelagic quotas maximised and no redirection of the sprat fishery away from where the cod is thought to be starving and has a denser population. Again, ministers have ignored scientific advice to re-direct the sprat fishing effort and fishers dependent on a healthy Baltic cod stock. Instead the large pelagic vessels will be pleased, since they will keep fuels costs to a minimum.
One wonders about the environmental or socio-economic justification for prioritising the pelagic trawl sector over the passive gear cod fishers, who provide high employment despite a lack of resource access.
Moreover, with the plaice TAC being set above scientific advice and illegal discarding rampant in the fishery, cod will be placed under further strain by the demersal trawlers, which will make recovery of the stock less likely or delayed in time.
With 90 million eastern Baltic cod estimated as discarded over the past five years by ICES, managers have to get a grip of this practise. Business as usual with a lack of control and enforcement of the discards is to the detriment of passive gear fishers who see their quota, both today and tomorrow, thrown overboard by the heavily fuel subsidised demersal trawlers.
Poland proposed a closure of the eastern cod fishery with some derogations and Sweden pushed for a larger cut. However, according to reports the Danish Baltfish Presidency had a leading role in the negotiations and, judging from the outcome, seem to have driven a short-term agenda.
Denmark will not be allowed to give large direct subsidies to their fishers, like this year, and this may have contributed to their reluctance to follow the clear boundaries laid out in the Common Fisheries Policy and Baltic management plan.
While details of the cod spawning season closures have not yet been made public such remedial measures will be ineffective if the landing obligation is not fully enforced and overfishing continues.
|Stock and management area||ICES recommendation*||Commission proposal||2017 TAC||2018 TAC|
|Cod, Western Baltic, 22–24||1 376 – 3541||5 597**||5 597||5 597|
|Cod, Eastern Baltic, 25–32||24 767||22 275**||30 857||28 388|
|Herring, Western Baltic Spring Spawners, 22–24||17 309||12 987||28 401||17 309|
|Herring, Central Baltic, 25–29 & 32||177 521–238 229||238 229||191 129||229 355|
|Herring, Gulf of Riga, 28.1||23 476–28 999||28 999||31 074||28 999|
|Herring, Gulf of Bothnia, 30–31||95 566||70 617||140 998||84 599|
|Sprat, Baltic, 22–32||197 061–262 310||262 310||260 993||262 310|
|Plaice, Baltic, 22–32||6 272||6 272||7 862||7 076|
|Salmon, Baltic, 22–31 (individual fish)||78 400***||106 096||95 928||91 132|
|Salmon, Gulf of Finland, 32 (individual wild/reared fish)||9 558****||10 003||10 485||10 003|
All figures are in tonnes, except for salmon
* The Fisheries Secretariat recommendations were the same as ICES except 1 376 tonnes for western Baltic cod
** Commission proposal assumes a quota transfer from the Eastern cod TAC to the western TAC
*** ICES advice after deducting unreported, misreported and discarded catch
**** All catches should be reared fish only, with zero catches of wild salmon