Fishermen propose concrete measures to revive Baltic cod

Published on September 11, 2018

Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE) has presented an “Action Plan for Eastern Baltic cod stock”. LIFE, which represent over thirty fishing organisations across Europe, including in six of the eight EU Baltic member states, have together contributed to the Action Plan.

The deep crisis for Eastern Baltic cod has become apparent in recent years. Scientists point out a range of threats. High fishing pressure, eutrophication and dead sea beds – limiting the living space for cod and parasites spread by seals infecting the cod, are some of the main factors. The Action Plan is a response to these threats.

Firstly, the fishers highlight the need for action in ending the illegal and unreported fishing for cod. “Widespread illegal mobile gear modification practices leading to currently high, and largely unreported, level of cod discards, as well as the discards themselves, are properly dealt with by the competent control and inspection authorities”. This echoes the statement recently made by German retailers who also voiced concerns about the IUU fisheries in the Baltic Sea.

LIFE also state that “it is high time that the long-standing ICES advice about a spatial management plan for pelagic fisheries be properly recognized by the managers.” In particular, redirecting the sprat fishery northward would likely improve the food supply for the cod in the area where its population is most dense. In addition, they provide several scenarios for how this policy could be implemented in practice.

Many NGOs also wrote to BALTFISH in April to also request action on the spatial management of the sprat stock, in line with the ICES advice from the past five years, however, no response has been forthcoming. Recent research from SLU Aqua indicates that the “skinny cod” that are found in the main sprat fishing area can quickly have their body condition improved when proper food availability is in place, this also makes them more resistant to seal-induced parasites.

Ensuring protection for spawning cod, thereby allowing for recruitment to improve, as well as better data on the possible importance of recreational fishing on the stock are also recommended. Finally, LIFE would like to ensure that all fishers negatively affected by conservation measures “should have the possibility to access the EMFF funds to compensate for any losses”.

They highlight that reducing the TAC alone, which has been the policy since 2015, has not resulted in any improvement for the cod stock. It is only with additional management measures, such as those provided in the Action Plan, that the stock can be restored and the environmental and socio-economic disaster can be reversed.

The Council meeting, where Ministers will take decide on management measures such as the quota for next year, will take place on 15-16 October.