Mixed feelings in Baltic Sea States after October Council

Published on October 29, 2021

After October Agrifish Council, which focused in particular on the proposal for a Council regulation fixing the fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2022 Member States’ governments published press releases. Most of the countries emphasized the terrible state of the Baltic Sea and the lengthy and difficult negotiations in the Council. The reactions to the outcome of fishing opportunities vary, as each state has different priority issues.


In its press release, Germany expressed disappointment, claiming that the European Commission applied different standards to fishing in  the two management areas – the Baltic Sea and Kattegat/Skagerrak – particularly for western Baltic herring. On the one hand, the local fishermen in the Baltic Sea would have to accept drastic cuts, while the same stock would be fished in the North Sea. According to the German government, that was not based on a holistic approach. As Germany had tabled a proposal to decide on the fishing opportunities for herring in both management areas during the December Agrifish Council, which was eventually rejected, Germany voted against the quota decisions as a whole. The German State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Beate Kasch, explained in Luxembourg: “The overfishing of western herring must be stopped. We cannot accept that this year, too, different standards will be applied to fishing for herring in the two management areas of the western Baltic Sea and Kattegat/Skagerrak. This has already led to dramatic unilateral overfishing. The future of our fisheries and stocks is at stake here. We expect that, in the interests of sustainability, the portfolio will be viewed and managed as a whole. Unfortunately, this could not be achieved in the Council. It cannot be that our Baltic fishermen will have to accept drastic cuts again, but the stock will be fished further north.


Denmark’s reaction pinpointed the fact that the proposal from the European Commission included historically low quotas for all stocks, which followed the alarming advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Denmark emphasized that the negotiation ended with an 88 per cent reduction of the western Baltic cod quota, which will have very negative consequences for Danish Baltic fishermen. Denmark also referred to an unexpected and surprising Irish proposal to take part of the Danish mackerel quota in the North Sea, and that it took long and difficult negotiations to sweep the proposal off the table.


Poland underlined the concern about the deteriorating condition of the Baltic fish stocks and the resulting serious reductions in the catch quotas of the most important fish species. According to Poland, the agreed total allowable catches (TACs) will affect the Polish fisheries sector more than other countries in the region, preventing the economic conduct of fishing activities. At the same time, Poland called on the European Commission to quickly launch appropriate protective measures under the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF).


Finland’s reactions focused on commercial fishing for salmon and the fact that it will continue in Finnish waters. They also commented on the introduction of a ban on salmon fishing in the main basin of the Baltic Sea. Finnish Fishery Minister Jari Leppä confirmed that “the solution now adopted is in line with the principles of the EU’s common fisheries policy and Finland’s goals” and that he was “particularly pleased that the situation of salmon stocks in the Baltic Sea is continuing to improve”. Finland also echoed the Council’s decision to significantly restrict recreational fishing in the open sea. The press release concluded that these measures will enable a larger number of salmon to enter Finnish coastal waters and rivers than before.


Estonia emphasized that the Council negotiations were the longest in history and therefore extremely difficult. Nevertheless, the increased herring quota in the Gulf of Riga, which will have a direct impact on Estonian fishermen, was expressed as satisfactory. At the same time, there will also be an opportunity to catch more sprat next year. The Estonian government thus noted that Baltic herring quota will decrease due to the poor condition of the stocks. The Minister of the Environment of Estonia, Tõnis Mölder, stated: “We can be satisfied with the results of the Council, although we also had to make concessions. On the positive note, the increase in the herring quota in the Gulf of Riga by 21 per cent to a total of 22,000 tons can be pointed out. This will be helpful for both coastal fishing and trawling in the Gulf of Riga, especially at a time when the quota for herring in the open basin is decreasing by 45 per cent to a total of about 6,000 tons due to the poor condition of the stock.” According to Herki Tuusi, Head of the Fish Resources Department of the Ministry of the Environment of Estonia, it was the most difficult issue for Estonia to accept such a large reduction in the Baltic herring quota in the open Baltic Sea, but this was the result of negotiations with all EU Member States. “In 2022, Estonia will be able to catch a total of about 57,000 tons of sprat and herring, which is about 2,300 tons more than this year. Although we did not achieve the maximum possible result, we can still be satisfied with it” Herki Tuusi said after the negotiations. In the press release the Estonian government confirmed that “Estonia’s salmon quota in the Gulf of Finland is 970 fish, plus 450 fish, which (they) can transfer from the main basin of the Baltic Sea.” Herki Tussi also noted that “salmon quota seems small, but it is very necessary to ensure the continuation of coastal fishing, where salmon is caught as a by-catch“. Estonia indicated also that in 2022 targeted salmon fishing will be banned in the Baltic Main Basin due to the poor status of this stock. According to Herki Tuusi Estonia “can use (…) quota to cover by-catches of salmon there and fishing can continue.”


Latvia underlined its role as BALTFISH Presidency and the good progress made in this forum ahead of the Council meeting, when EU Baltic Fisheries Ministers agreed on a joint Baltic proposal on fishing opportunities for 2022 and adopted a joint recommendation on more selective fishing gear for flatfish in order to reduce the impact on the threatened cod stocks as by-catches. Latvia sees the 21 per cent increase of fishing opportunities for herring in the Gulf of Riga in 2022 as its main success at the Council. They also referred to the two critical cod stocks and a decreased quota for Western cod, but they mentioned that these stocks are not of high importance to Latvian fishermen. During negotiations, Latvia opposed the European Commission proposal to decrease herring quotas in the central basin of the Baltic Sea by 54 per cent and confirmed afterwards that they fought for a higher quota. In the end, negotiations led to a smaller reduction (45 per cent decrease). Latvia  also expressed delight with the 13 per cent increase of the sprat quota, which is the target of a main trawl fishery for Latvia in the Baltic Sea. ​​The head of the Latvian delegation, Edgars Kronbergs emphasized: “It is a great pleasure that in 2022 we will provide our fishermen even better fishing opportunities than in 2021, especially for herring in the Gulf of Riga and sprat in the Baltic Sea.”


Lithuania echoed Latvia’s position on herring and sprat as they expressed satisfaction with the smaller reduction (herring) and an increase (sprat) in the quotas, which will ensure the continuity of the fisheries sector’s activities in Lithuania. Lithuanian Fishery Minister Kęstutis Navickas said after the Council: “We support the sustainability goals of the Baltic Sea, therefore it is important that the agreed quotas are based on scientific recommendations. In the long negotiations, it was possible to agree on a more moderate reduction in the quota for central herring and a 13 per cent increase in fishing opportunities for sprat, as proposed by the European Commission.” Lithuania also referred to Russia’s activities in the Baltic Sea. The Lithuanian Minister said: “However, we call on the European Commission to pay attention to Russia’s actions in the Baltic Sea. Fishermen in this country (Russia) continue to fish for eastern cod stock and undermine our sustainability efforts. We must strive for dialogue and ensure proper management of the Baltic Sea resources.


Sweden commented on the Council decisions with regards to Western Baltic cod, central herring and salmon (ban on targeted fishing south of the Åland Sea). According to Sweden, these decisions are assumed to have negative consequences for Swedish coastal fishing and coastal communities, as well as for fish processing companies in all EU Member States around the Baltic Sea. It also means a reduction in Sweden’s total fishing opportunities. At the same time, the Swedish government confirms that it has managed to negotiate certain exceptions to mitigate the consequences for small-scale coastal fishing and local fish processing companies, particularly for Western Baltic herring in the south.


All the reactions confirmed that the situation for both the environment and the fish stocks in the Baltic Sea is very serious, and all the Baltic states government representatives expressed an understanding of it. Hence, they presented quite a reasonable approach during the negotiations, but the impact on local fishermen was a major concern,  which is visible in some reactions, especially from the Baltic states, Poland and Denmark.


Overall, the negotiation results and decisions taken by the Council in October gave a little hope for the Baltic Sea’s most threatened species like cod, herring and salmon. However, the reporting from the Member States indicates that, although they expressed concern about the Baltic Sea environment, the economic gain of the fishing industry was the true issue of consideration.