ICES advice for Baltic Sea quotas in 2020 – zero catch of eastern cod and western herring

Published on May 29, 2019

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) have today announced their recommendation for the EU to stop all fishing on Eastern Baltic cod and Western spring spawning herring.

These two stocks have been fished above sustainable levels despite science clearly indicating significant declines in biomass. It is now recommended that the fisheries are closed and that neither are expected to rebuild to the minimum biomass threshold that will allow fishing to begin again by at least 2024 and 2021 respectively.

For western Baltic cod a sharp quota reduction is proposed. This is largely due to the collapse of recruitment in recent years. For three of the past four years the number of juvenile cod entering the fishery is the lowest since the time series began in 1985. The exception, the 2016 year class, is now understood to be just 15% above the long-term average. Recruitment from the 2016 year class was revised down by 54% and the spawning stock biomass has been revised downward by over 60% on last year’s projection. ICES warn in their working group report WGBFAS section 2.3.9 management considerations: “stronger year classes are needed to ensure continuance of a commercial fishery”.

The only stock which has consistently been fished in line with the Baltic multiannual management plan, Gulf of Riga herring, has grown. Sustainable fishing has facilitated an increase in biomass and it is recommended the quota is enlarged.

However, there is bad news for the three high volume fisheries: central Baltic herring, sprat and Bothnian herring. Central herring and sprat have both had poor recruitment since 2014 and the fisheries are now more dependent on older year classes. In 2020 ICES recommendations when fishing at or below Fmsy result in quota reductions for both of these stocks. Moreover, there are clear indications that significant cuts are likely to be necessary in the forthcoming years due to the lack of strong incoming year classes. Species misreporting is also problematic leading to difficulties with accurate data collection and analyses of biomass and fishing mortality.

With regard to Bothnian herring, the stock is productive but has been overfished to such an extent that its biomass has declined. In addition, it is now classified by ICES as a Category 3 stock, meaning a full assessment with reference points cannot be provided and a 27% cut in the quota is recommended.

For flatfish, ICES advice indicates that the plaice stock is increasing in size although flounder is in decline. These stocks are caught together with eastern Baltic cod, in particular by the trawl segment of the fleet.

The status within the two salmon management areas has remained relatively stable and much depends on the performance from individual rivers. Misreporting of salmon as sea trout is still considered to be an issue for management.


Fish stock (subdivision) ICES advice 2020 (tonnes) EU TAC 2019 (tonnes) % difference ICES advice 2020 and TAC in 2019
Eastern Baltic cod (24-32) 0 24,112 -100%
Western Baltic cod (22-23)  

2,329 – 3,065


9,515 -76% or -68%
Western herring (22-24) 0 9,001 -100%
Central herring (25-27, 28.2, 28 & 32)  



170,360 -10%
Riga herring (28.1)  



31,044 +11%
Bothnian herring (30-31)  



88,703 -27%
Sprat (22-32)  



270,772 -25%
Plaice (22-32)  6,895 10,122 -32%
Salmon main basin (22-31)  


(reported wanted catch)

91,132 -36%
Salmon Gulf of Finland (32)  


(reported wanted catch)

9,703 -9%


Notes on Column B “ICES advice 2020”:

ICES advice has been converted into EU management advice. We have accounted for both stock mixing and the Russian share where necessary.

Western Baltic cod is for Fmsy lower, with zero catch in SD 24 and recreational catches accounted for.

Central herring, Riga herring and sprat are Fmsy point value.

314 tonnes of Riga herring transferred to Central herring and 4,337 transferred the other way.

Russian share deducted of 9.5% for Central herring and 10.08% of sprat.

Plaice advice is based on MSY in SD 21-23 and PA in 24-32

Salmon recommendations are commercial landings of individual fish in terms of wanted catch.

Russian share of 1.9% and 9.3% deducted for respective salmon stocks.