The European Commission have announced their proposals for fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2019. The proposals are for the cod, herring, sprat, plaice and salmon stocks. The final decision will be taken by the European Council on 15-16 October.
For western Baltic cod the Commission has proposed a figure of 7,340 tonnes, an increase of 31% on last year. In addition, recreational fishers will be subject to a bag limit of 5 cod per day. These figures are in line with the ICES advice. However, a surprise additional measure was to remove restrictions on fishing during the spawning season. The STECF have evaluated the closed area as effective and the stock is highly vulnerable, comprised of just one strong year class, for two of the past three years recruitment (the number of juvenile fish maturing) has been the lowest on record. Removing the spawning closure represents a serious threat to the growth potential of the stock.
For eastern Baltic cod the Commission has proposed a TAC of 24,112 tonnes, a cut of 15%. This far exceeds the recommendations made by both ICES and the Baltic Sea Advisory Committee. Given that the stock is data limited, is characterised by many warning signs, not least that 1 out of every 4 fish is illegally discarded, the average spawning size has reduced from 35 to 20 cm, that only one spawning site remains viable, and that the TAC has not been fished up in recent years this proposal was surprising and it is not in line with the scientific advice or recommendations made by stakeholders.
With regard to western spring spawning herring the proposal amounts to 6,404 tonnes, a reduction of 63%. The stock is outside of safe biological limits and ICES advised a 0 TAC fro next year. However, due to the stock having been recently benchmarked leading to a revision of the biological reference points the Commission have opted for a significant cut that it expected to increase biomass by close to 10%. While not in line with scientific advice the Commission appear to have sought a middle ground and acknowledged the socioeconomic impact in their proposal.
Central Baltic herring has a TAC of 170,360 tonnes proposed, a reduction of 26%. This proposal exceeds the MSY advice provided by ICES, which would result in a TAC of 135,464 tonnes once stock mixing and the Russian share have been accounted for. The high quotas in recent years have been based on the 2015 year class which is estimated as the highest in the stock’s time series.
The proposals for Bothnian herring, Gulf of Riga herring and sprat are all in line with the MSY principle and are supported by both scientific advice and stakeholder recommendations. These will result in a 7% reduction, and a 9% and 3% increase respectively.
The proposed plaice quota is 10,122 tonnes, an increase of 43%. This proposal is in line with the MSY approach as advised by ICES. However, given the very high levels of discarding, estimated to be 39% by weight and rising to 100% for parts of the fishery, largely where it is caught along with cod, this TAC can only be effective with a full implementation and control of the landing obligation.
For salmon in the main basin the Commission have proposed a quota of 104,996 individual fish, an increase of 15%. BSAC other interest group members had recommended a TAC of 64,864 individuals, which would reflect a wanted catch and deduct the amount of unreported, misreported and discarded fish. The BSAC fisheries members recommended 91,132 fish. The Commission proposal exceeds both of these.
No additional measures for main basin salmon have been proposed to reduce the significant amount of misreporting, whereby salmon are reported as sea trout. In their advice to the Commission, “the BSAC is unanimous in expressing concern about misreporting of salmon and encourages the authorities to tackle the problem”. Furthermore, “ICES advises that management of salmon fisheries should be based on the status of individual river stocks. Fisheries on mixed stocks that cannot target only river stocks with a healthy status, present particular threats to wild stocks that do not have a healthy status. Fisheries in open-sea areas or coastal waters are more likely to pose a threat”.
For Gulf of Finland salmon the proposed TAC stands at 9,879 individuals, a reduction of 1%, and in line with recommendations.
The final deadline for managing stocks below Fmsy in order to reach biomass levels in line with the maximum sustainable yield is 2020, meaning that next year there are more clearly defined criteria under which quotas can be proposed. Our article on the Council decision for quotas in 2018 can be found here.