The International Council of the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has released the advice for fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for next year. There is no sign of recovery for depleted populations, such as eastern Baltic cod and western spring spawning herring. Yet again, zero catch is advised for both stocks. A substantial decline in central Baltic herring has resulted in advice to cut the quota. Some stocks are doing better, including the reassessed herring populations in the Bothnian Sea, herring in the Gulf of Riga, sprat and most flatfish populations.
Overall, the status and health of fish stocks in the Baltic Sea is a concern, and the current management is clearly not reaching targets of MSY and Good Environmental Status (GES). The two stocks in most dire condition are the eastern Baltic cod and the western spring spawning herring; for both, ICES has given a “zero catch” advice.
This is the third consecutive year that ICES advises no fishing of eastern Baltic cod. The spawning stock biomass (SSB) remains below key reference points such as Blim and Bpa. It is at the lowest level recorded since the scientific assessments started. The cod suffer from bad growth, parasites and high mortality. Ecosystem changes and fisheries are both part of the problem.
“It is time to properly implement ecosystem-based management that takes both biotic and abiotic measures into consideration, as stated clearly in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)”, said Sara Söderström, FishSec policy advisor.
The western Baltic cod is also in a dire state, and the advice for fishing opportunities has been postponed until September due to a need to re-assess the stock.
For the fourth year in a row, the advice for western spring spawning herring is also “zero catch”. So far this advice has been ignored by EU fisherie ministers in the quota negotiations. The stock is divided into three different management units, which underlines the need to reduce fishing pressure in all of them.
Central Baltic herring is not doing well either, and ICES advises a 10-46% reduction in fishing opportunities in order to meet the Maximum Sustainable Yield (FMSY) management objective. The herring in the Gulf of Riga is in good condition, and the new assessment for herring in the Gulf of Bothnia points to a larger SSB than previously estimated. Also, sprat is in relatively good condition.
Baltic salmon is genetically distinct from the Atlantic salmon species, and consists of a large number of river-specific populations, some of which are still very vulnerable. The management of Baltic salmon is currently divided into two areas: the Main Basin and the Gulf of Bothnia (SD 22–31) and the Gulf of Finland (SD 32). The ICES advice on fishing opportunities for Baltic salmon has been postponed until September.
Stock-by-stock summary of the advice
Cod (Gadus morhua) in subdivisions 22–24, western Baltic stock (western Baltic Sea)
No advice has been released for the western Baltic cod. Due to retrospective bias in the assessment, the advice will be postponed until September this year. However, the stock is in very dire condition with poor development in both recruitment and SSB.
Cod (Gadus morhua) in subdivisions 24–32, eastern Baltic stock (eastern Baltic Sea)
The advice for the eastern Baltic cod is zero catch. The stock remains in a very bad condition where the average size of individual fish is decreasing, recruitment is low and the SSB is the lowest on record, far below the Blim reference point. The precautionary approach is applied in this advice.
Herring (Clupea harengus) in subdivisions 30 and 31 (Gulf of Bothnia)
ICES has not been able to do a full stock assessment of herring in the Gulf of Botnia since 2019, due to a lack of data necessary for a full analytical stock assessment. Therefore, the population was benchmarked in the current year 2021 and a new model developed, with new reference points, which has been used for the assessment and advice for 2022. According to the new model, the stock biomass is larger than estimated in previous years, resulting in a lower fishing mortality (as this is relative to stock size) and an increase in the catch advice for next year. With the new full analytical assessment, the stock status has changed from ICES category 5 to category 1. This year’s advice is therefore based on the MSY approach rather than the precautionary approach, and the estimated biomass is considered to be above MSY Btrigger, Bpa and Blim. The advice for 2022, which is in line with the ranges in the Baltic multiannual plan (Baltic MAP), is between 86 729 tonnes and 111 714 tonnes, whereas 111 345 tonnes tonnes corresponds to FMSY.
Herring (Clupea harengus) in subdivisions 25–29 and 32, excluding the Gulf of Riga (central Baltic Sea)
Central Baltic herring is the largest of the Baltic herring stocks, but it is really composed of a number of local populations. According to this year’s assessment, the SSB is in decline, almost below Blim and fishing mortality is high. The presumed large year class of 2019 has now been re-assessed to be below average. Following the Baltic multiannual plan (MAP), the ICES advises catches between 52 433 and 87 581 tonnes, whereas 71 939 tonnes tonnes corresponds to FMSY. The advice is based on the precautionary approach.
Herring (Clupea harengus) in Subdivision 28.1 (Gulf of Riga)
The herring population in the Gulf of Riga is estimated to have a large SSB and a recruitment that fluctuates over years, but without a negative trend. The ICES advice in line with the Baltic MAP ranges from 34 797 to 52 132 tonnes, while 44 945 tonnes corresponds to FMSY. The advice is following the precautionary approach.
Herring (Clupea harengus) in subdivisions 20–24, spring spawners (Skagerrak, Kattegat and western Baltic)
The western Baltic spring spawning herring population is in very bad shape. SSB is below Blim, and both recruitment and catches are very low. The stock is divided into different management units, which means that a reduced fishing pressure needs to be applied in all units in order for the stock to be able to recover. The ICES advice for 2022 is zero catch – the same as for the past four years. Furthermore, the Brexit agreement adds additional uncertainties to the fishing pressure and stock projections.
Sprat (Sprattus sprattus) in subdivisions 22–32 (Baltic Sea)
The Baltic sprat population has a SSB above Blim and a recruitment that fluctuates but without a negative trend. There is evidence of misreporting between sprat and herring, however the effects of this are not included in the assessment. The ICES advice follows the Baltic multiannual plan and the fishing mortality range in line with the precautionary approach is between 214 000 and 373 210 tonnes, where 291 745 tonnes corresponds to FMSY. Multi-species interactions should be considered in the management of the sprat fishery.
Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) in subdivisions 21–23 (Kattegat, Belt Seas, and the Sound)
The ICES advice based on the MSY approach is that catches should be no more than 8 821 tonnes. The strong year class of 2019 is now entering the fishery and the current SSB is the highest in the time series. Plaice in SD22 is now considered to be a target species.
Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) in subdivisions 24–32 (Baltic Sea, excluding the Sound and Belt Seas)
Plaice in SD 24–32 has a large SSB and good recruitment. The ICES advice is that catches should not exceed 3 956 tonnes, when the precautionary approach is applied.
Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) in subdivisions 22–31 (Baltic Sea, excluding the Gulf of Finland)
The advice on Atlantic salmon has been postponed until September.
Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) in Subdivision 32 (Gulf of Finland)
The advice on Atlantic salmon has been postponed until September.
Stock-specific summaries for species without catch quotas
Sea trout (Salmo trutta) in subdivisions 22–32 (Baltic Sea)
ICES advises a precautionary approach with a reduction in both commercial and recreational fisheries targeting sea trout, in order to safeguard the remaining wild populations in the Baltic Sea region. Currently, most of the fishing pressure comes from recreational fisheries. Already existing fishing restrictions should remain. Furthermore, habitat restoration and access to spawning areas should increase.
Turbot (Scophthalmus maximus) in subdivisions 22–32 (Baltic Sea)
ICES is not requested to give advice on fishing opportunities. However, the stock size is considered stable over time. Note to readers. As turbot does not have a EU TAC, it is not subject to the EU landing obligation.
Baltic flounder (Platichthys solemdali) in subdivisions 27 and 29–32 (northern central and northern Baltic Sea)
ICES is not requested to give advice on fishing opportunities. Stock assessment is largely based on historical catches. Landings have decreased over the last 20 years. The stock is considered relatively stable during the last 20 years, with the exception of a large increase in 2015.
Flounder (Platichthys spp.) in subdivisions 24 and 25 (west of Bornholm and south-western central Baltic)
ICES is not requested to give advice on fishing opportunities. Catch data has been relatively stable since mid-2000 with a few years with larger catches. The stock size has fluctuated but with an overall increase since ca year 2000.
Flounder (Platichthys spp.) in subdivisions 26 and 28 (east of Gotland and Gulf of Gdansk)
ICES is not requested to give advice on fishing opportunities. The stock is in decline where SSB has decreased since 2005.
 Division 4.a., SD 20-21 and SD 22-24