Op-ed: Finland can lead the EU in ending overfishing

Published on August 19, 2019

In July, Finland assumed two important roles that could have a significant impact on the Baltic Sea, EU fish stocks and the health of the ocean globally.

As holder of the rotating Presidency of the European Council, Finland will chair Agriculture and Fisheries Council meetings at which Ministers will agree EU catch limits for fish stocks. The Baltic Sea Fisheries Forum (BALTFISH) is responsible for fisheries in the Baltic. As President, Finland will chair this regional forum of fisheries directors.

Marine ecosystems and fisheries face a multitude of threats, which are exacerbated by overfishing. The health of the ocean, food security, fishing communities and the jobs that they support, are all dependent on fish stocks. Too many of which have been severely depleted by years of overfishing.

The EU’s Scientific Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries recently reported that 41% of the assessed stocks in the Northeast Atlantic were overfished in 2017. More recent scientific advice has revealed that Eastern Baltic Cod and Western Spring Herring in the Baltic are in crisis. This is made even worse by the thousands of tonnes of cod in the Baltic and North Sea being caught and illegally thrown overboard. All this points to the need for effective control measures.

In 2013, the Common Fisheries Policy set the objective of ending EU overfishing by 2020 at the latest. Decisions taken during Finland’s EU and BALTFISH presidencies will determine whether this objective is met.

Jari Leppä, Minister of Fisheries, has made clear that during these presidencies Finland must act as “an honest and neutral broker”. Honest is good, that means calling out bad management and clearly stating what needs to be done. Neutral is good, as long as it does not mean passive. Neutral should not mean passively facilitating the breaking of agreed deadlines, and the further erosion of ocean health. Furthermore, neutral and honest should include full transparency in exposing flagrant disregard of scientific advice in order to benefit narrow short-term interests.

Of course Finland cannot do it alone. The European Commission has a responsibility to propose fishing limits consistent with the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy.  EU member states, including the other Baltic Member States, have a responsibility to accept the Commission proposal and not use it as a starting point for negotiation. It is a starting point for the restoration of ocean health, a restoration which is long overdue. As an honest and neutral actor, Finland is ideally positioned to deliver this, and to act on its conservation credentials.

Transparency is one of Finland’s greatest tools in achieving this. EU fisheries management is notoriously secretive, how else could three decades of overfishing be legislated other than behind closed doors. It is so bad that the European Ombudsman has initiated an inquiry into the lack of transparency surrounding ministers decisions on fishing limits. Finland has a good reputation for transparency, it can demonstrate this to the rest of the EU, and save the Ombudsman some work, by opening those doors and revealing how fishing limits are set.

Citizens are calling for action on the environment emergencies we are facing, Finland can answer that call by leading an end to the decades old scourge of EU overfishing. Show us …


Monica Verbeek, Executive Director, Seas at Risk

Päivi Lundvall, Executive Director, Finnish Association for Nature Conservation


This op-ed was published in Helsingin Sanomat on 12 August 2019.