EU Commission steps in to protect Baltic cod

Published on August 14, 2019

On 22 July 2019 the European Commission approved emergency measures to protect eastern Baltic cod. This is detailed in Implementing Regulation 2019/1248 “establishing measures to alleviate a serious threat to the conservation of the eastern Baltic cod (Gadus morhua) stock”.

According to the regulation, the emergency measures establish a prohibition to target cod in subdivisions 24-26 of the Baltic Sea from 22 July until the end of 2019. The scientific advice from ICES is for the fishery to be closed in 2020, and this will be decided at the October Council later in the year.

The Commission intervention comes after several years in which BALTFISH has been unable to reach consensus on Baltic cod fishing quotas and additional management measures at the regional management level.

Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, said: “The impact of this cod stock collapsing would be catastrophic for the livelihoods of many fishermen and coastal communities all around the Baltic Sea. We must urgently act to rebuild the stock – in the interest of fish and fishermen alike. That means responding rapidly to an immediate threat now, through the emergency measures the Commission is taking. But it also means managing the stock – and the habitat it lives in – properly in the long term.”

The Implementing Regulation states that emergency measures are necessary because the stock “suffers from an unsustainably low biomass due to a combination of declining recruitment, environmental factors and changes in the ecosystem leading to a high natural mortality and an excessive fishing mortality given the status of the stock.”

In addition, “the conservation of the eastern Baltic cod stock is seriously threatened because of the risk of a serious harm to the reproductive capacity of that stock caused by the steep decline of the spawning stock biomass. Moreover, ICES considers that fishing at any level will target the remaining few commercial sized cod, and therefore further deteriorate the stock structure and reduce its reproductive potential, which is already at a historic low”

However, exemptions have also been included in order for the measures to be both effective and proportionate. Small-scale coastal fisheries using passive gears in the shallow coastal waters of subdivision 24 will not be affected by the closure. Small-scale fishers using passive gears in the 24-26 will have a derogation for up to 10% of cod by-catches. Pelagic fisheries have a derogation for their unavoidable by-catches of cod.

In response to the emergency measures the organisation Our Fish “believes that the ban is too little too late, and criticized both the decision to broadly exempt industrial fishing vessels with Eastern Baltic cod bycatch, and the missed opportunity to introduce obligatory monitoring for these vessels as an incentive to reduce their by-catch”

“Our Fish believes that while it is proportionate and fair to have an exception for small scale fishermen fishing near the shore, it is problematic that the Commission’s measures include a very broad exception for industrial fishing vessels not directly targeting Eastern Baltic cod, but having a considerable Eastern Baltic cod by-catch – and are allowed to continue their fishing operations without any restriction.”