Pelagic trawlers report false catch figures and undermine sustainable management

Published on September 17, 2019

Baltic pelagic fisheries has massively misreported official catches, with sprat catches regularly recorded as herring – and the false reporting is not an isolated event, reports SR Kaliber, an investigative programme on Swedish national radio.

During the first quarter of 2019 Swedish vessels underwent controls by Danish authorities on 19 occasions. The pelagic trawlers involved had reported that 56% of their catches were Herring but the control results showed that the figure was actually 27%. This means that catches of Sprat are far higher than those officially reported.

Falsifying logbooks has the subsequent effect of scientists using incorrect data to base their quota recommendations on. In attempting to calculate the sustainable harvesting of a fish stock, scientists are dependent on accurate data.

Misreporting, which the report states has been ongoing for several years, will have had the effect of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, ICES, incorrectly estimating the size of the sprat and herring stocks. Stock biomass and fishing mortality are key indicators used by scientists to calculate the maximum sustainably yield (MSY), which is used by the EU to set fishing quotas. Setting quotas in line with scientific advice depends on accurate and honest data.

– It is obviously not okay that there are such large discrepancies between what is reported and what you see in controls. As a politician, I am very dependent on the fact that I can rely on the advice that ICES provides, before deciding on quotas. The advice in turn is based on what has been reported, so obviously this is worrying, said Jennie Nilsson, Swedish Minister for Rural Affairs in a comment to SR on the misreported landings.

Joakim Hjelm, a Swedish scientist who participates in the ICES advice drafting for Baltic stocks, stated “they (the fishers) must realise that they benefit from providing the correct information. I have full understanding if they make a little mistake because there are big catches and it can take days to unload. But we need better statistics that this.”

Kasper Schou, the head of Fiskeristyrelsen in Denmark, has recently compiled the investigations of all Swedish boats active in the Danish waters of Skagen and said “instead of the 1,000 tonnes of herring stated by the skipper on the boat, there were 129 tonnes of herring on board. It’s an incredible difference. If you convert it into money it’s about 1.4 million kronor (€187,489)”, commenting on one of the worst offenders.

The Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management have announced that there will be an increase in controls of herring and sprat fishing vessels in the coming years. They also highlight that Article 27.5 of the new Technical Measures Regulation, that came into force on 14 August 2019, gives Member States the opportunity to revoke licenses if the rules on catch composition are not complied with.


Further reading and references:

SR Kaliber radio progamme on Fake Fishing Figures

Jennie Nilsson, Swedish Minister for Rural Affairs, reacting to the misreporting

Official report, analysis and recommendations from Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (Swedish)

Translation of Official report from Swedish Agency (informal English translation)

Response from Sportfiskarna (organisation representing Swedish anglers)

Open letter by WWF, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and the Swedish Anglers regarding the scandal (Swedish)

SR Kaliber text version of the full radio programme (Swedish)

SR Kaliber text version of radio programme (informal English translation)