Environment ministers struggle to deliver on promise of a healthy Baltic Sea

Published on March 6, 2018

Today, 6 March, the HELCOM ministerial meeting will gather Environment Ministers from the Baltic region in Brussels. The first of its kind for five years sees implementation of marine environment laws as its focus. But ten years after the original Baltic Sea Action Plan was signed all countries fall short on the promise of a healthy Baltic Sea, as described in a new report from World Wildlife Fund, WWF.

The deadline for Good Environmental Status is 2020 and the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) the year after. Ministers and the Commission will be keen to show they are on course to meet targets.

The meeting is focused on fulfilling agreed international targets, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, commitments which were reaffirmed at the UN Oceans Conference in New York last summer. HELCOM made several voluntary commitments toward SDG 14 “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources”.

As part of Helcom’s efforts towards enabling a healthy Baltic Sea, migratory fish stocks have been a focus. Both salmon and sea trout have seen some positive trends over the past decade thanks partly to the shared cooperation, research and management objectives that the institution enables. Extending this first step by the region’s Environment Ministers will be a crucial test of the commitment to protect biodiversity and implementing the sustainable development goals, Good Environmental Status and the BSAP.

There is an opportunity now for similar concerted and coordinated efforts to be made for the critically endangered European eel. Last December, the Commission proposed a Europe wide ban on eel fishing but this was watered down to a fishing stop on eels above 12 cm for a three month period. Now Environmental ministers need to step up and make sure that the national eel plans are revised so that more eels can escape the Baltic Sea and make it back to the Sargasso Sea. Only by increasing the spawning stock biomass can the catastrophic trend for European eel be reversed.