Commission proposal on fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2021

Published on September 1, 2020

The EU Commission has published their proposal on fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2021. While the Commission proposes to increase fishing opportunities for salmon in the main basin and the herring stock of the Gulf of Riga, the larger part of the stocks is proposed to decrease. For sprat, herring in the Gulf of Bothnia and plaice, a roll-over from this year´s Total Allowable Catches (TACs) is proposed. The proposals are mainly based on scientific advice from the International Council on the Exploration of the Seas (ICES). The final decision is taken by the Council on October 19-20th.

Central Baltic herring – substantial decrease (97 551 tonnes)
Since records began in 1974 the stock biomass is now estimated to have shrunk by 77 %. Fishing pressure has been too high since 2015, but a large year class might improve the stock status. There have been long standing allegations of misreporting in the pelagic fleet, with herring caught being reported as sprat in logbooks. During the last year, the debate has also focused on the fact that large quantities of herring is fished in small coastal areas, something ICES advice does not consider. This debate has intensified since June 2020, when a large part of the herring and sprat fishery in the Baltic was MSC certified. The Commission proposal is a 36 % decrease from the 2020 TAC and follows ICES advice.

Bothnian herring – unchanged (65 018 tonnes)
A stock that has issues with data collection and the stock assessment. The status of the stock is largely unknown. No reference points are available, and the only data published relates to the stock’s catch history. The Commission’s proposal follows ICES advice, which is a roll-over from last year´s level of 65 018 tonnes.

Main basin salmon – small increase (94 496 salmons)
ICES suggest that the substantial misreporting of salmon catches in polish catches has ended. The Commission therefore proposes to increase the TAC by 9 % in the main basin, but also proposes a reduction for the Gulf of Finland by 10 %. For the main basin stocks, where rivers in Sweden and Finland produce the majority of wild salmon, there are still uncertainties concerning illegal fishing at sea and virus-related diseases in the rivers.

Eastern Baltic cod – only by-catch quota (595 tonnes)
Due to the acute situation of the stock, the Commission prohibited the fishing of cod for the second half of 2019 in the areas with the greatest presence of eastern Baltic cod. For 2020, the Council limited its use to by-catches only, extended the existing spawning closure period and banned recreational fishing in areas where eastern Baltic cod is most present. The situation has not improved, and the Commission therefore proposes to reduce the by-catch TAC by 70 % and to maintain all the accompanying measures. Considering the state of the eastern cod stock, ideally no demersal trawl fishery with mixed catches should be allowed where they overlap significantly.

Western Baltic cod – small decrease (3 395 tonnes)
For 2020, the western Baltic cod spawning stock biomass has been revised downward by 30 % on last year’s projection, following on from a 45 % downward revision the previous year. There are strong indications that the model used to predict the development of the stock has a significant bias that overestimates the predicted biomass increases and underestimates the fishing mortality levels. The strong year class of 2016 is surrounded by historically low year classes. It is therefore that the Commission follows the MSY-lower advice, a decrease of 11 % in relation with the 2020 TAC. Reports of an increase of commercial gill net fishery in the trawl free Öresund area needs to be taken to consideration.

Other stocks
For sprat, herring in the Gulf of Bothnia and plaice, a roll-over from this year´s TACs is proposed. For the western herring, where ICES has recommended a 0 TAC for several years, the Commission proposes a 50 % decrease. For the Riga herring, a small increase is proposed.

Read more
Commission proposal


Table: Overview of TAC changes 2020-2021 (figures in tones except for salmon, which is in number of pieces)

2020 2021
Stock and
ICES fishing zone; subdivision
Council agreement (in tonnes & % change from 2019 TAC) Commission proposal
(in tonnes & % change from 2020 TAC)
Western Cod 22-24 3,806 (-60%) 3,395 (-11%)
Eastern Cod 25-32 2,000 (-92%) 595 (-70%)
Western Herring 22-24 3,150 (-65%) 1,575 (-50%)
Bothnian Herring 30-31 65,018 (-27%) 65,018 (0%)
Riga Herring 28.1 34,445 (+11%) 39,446 (+15%)
Central Herring 25-27, 28.2, 29, 32 153,384 (-10%) 97,551 (-36%)
Sprat 22-32 210,147 (-22%) 210,147 (0%)
Plaice 22-32 6,894 (-32%) 6,894 (0%)
Main Basin Salmon 22-31 86,575 (-5%) 94,496 (+9%)
Gulf of Finland Salmon 32 9,703 (0%) 8,714 (-10%)


Photographe: Markus Lundgren, Board member FishSec