The usual tough debate regarding the Baltic Sea fishing quotas is now over, resulting in an overall acceptance of the ICES advice but still with some major concerns regarding the eastern Baltic cod and the western herring. The TACs for 8 out of 10 stocks are following the ICES advice. However, ecosystem-based management and the precautionary principle are not emphasized enough.
Eastern and western cod
For the highly threatened eastern Baltic cod, the allowed bycatch quota of 595 tonnes exceeds the ICES advice of zero catch, but was reduced considerably compared to previous years. There is reason for concern about the accuracy of reported bycatch and adherence to the landing obligation. No targeted fishing for cod will be permitted in SD 24–32, with the exception of vessels not exceeding 12 metres in length using passive gears, fishing at depths less than 20 metres in SD 24.
The western Baltic cod quota was increased by 5 % compared to the previous year instead of the decrease of 11 % proposed by the Commission, but the TAC is still within scientific range according to ICES. The poor recruitment of the stock is a strong warning signal that should have been better reflected in this decision. Several area closures during spawning season were agreed: for SD 22–23 (1 February–31 March), SD 24 (15 May–15 August), and SD 25–26 (1 May–31f August). Fishing during the spawning closures is only allowed with vessels not exceeding 12 metres in length using passive gears, at depths less than 20 metres. The closure in SD 24 was prolonged with one month compared to last year but is still shorter than the proposal from the Commission. Clearly, a compromise with the fishing industry has been made. For anglers the bag limit from the previous year remains: a limit of 5 cod/day during April–January and 2 cod/day during February–March in SD 22–24. No recreational fishing for cod is allowed in SD 25–26.
Herring and sprat
The main concern about next year’s Baltic fishing opportunities is the TAC agreed for western Baltic herring. For the third consecutive year, the Council and the Commission disregarded the ICES advice. The TAC was set to 1 575 tonnes, while ICES proposed zero catch. Nevertheless, it’s a 50 % reduction compared to last year and in line with the Commission’s proposal. The TAC for Bothnian herring remained unchanged from last year and the TAC for central herring decreased with 36 %, while an increase of 15 % was agreed for Riga herring; all in line with the ICES advice. The sprat quota followed the ICES advice with a slight increase of 6 %, exceeding the proposal from the Commission which was more precautious.
For plaice, the Commission’s proposal and the ICES advice was a roll-over of the TAC from last year. The Council went beyond this and agreed on a 5 % increase in the quota.
The TAC for salmon in the main basin increased with 9 % following the ICES advice and the Commission´s proposal, even though ICES warns about the problem with increased fishing on mixed stocks at sea. The quota for salmon in the Gulf of Finland was reduced by 8 %, which is in line with the ICES advice but not with the 10 % reduction proposed by the Commission.
It can be concluded that the ICES advices have been followed in 8 out of 10 stocks, which is welcomed but not good enough if the Baltic Sea environment is to recover and the management principles should follow an ecosystem-based approach.
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