Marine researchers in Sweden have called for more protection for herring stocks in Swedish waters by move the limit for trawling
It is high time to move the trawl limit on the east coast of Sweden from 4 to 12 nautical miles to avoid a collapse of the herring/herring stock, writes Karin Lexén and Konrad Stralka.
In recent years, both researchers, authorities and coastal fishermen have sounded the alarm about a shortage of herring and herring in the archipelagos of the Baltic Sea – a species that is the engine of our inland ecosystem. We now hope that the government, with newly appointed Minister of Fisheries Ibrahim Baylan and Minister of the Environment Per Bolund, will act quickly to move the trawl limit from the current 4 nautical miles to 12 nautical miles.
Since the 1970s, the amount of spawning herring in the central Baltic Sea has decreased by almost 80 percent and the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) estimates that fishing pressure is too high. The stock is below scientific recommendations for sustainable fishing and the herring has become leaner, grows more slowly and becomes sexually mature after only one year instead of three. These are common signs of stressed and overfished stocks, and a development similar to that of cod before the stock collapsed and fishing was introduced in 2019.
According to SLU Aqua, moving the trawl limit from 4 to 12 nautical miles can make a big difference to the herring and herring’s ability to reproduce and grow. Nevertheless, political measures have been absent, and Swedish industrial fishing has instead been allowed to increase by as much as 70 percent over the past five years. Paradoxically, the proportion of herring and herring that are trawled industrially near the coast has also increased considerably, which has major consequences for the animals that have herring and herring as food.
Despite alarm reports, the administration has not yet introduced any concrete measures to reduce industrial fishing’s catches of coastal herring and herring. Marine and Water Authority mean that we cannot be certain that it is the fishing that creates problems, and that there is a lack of knowledge. Research is something that is always evolving and is therefore rarely complete. It must not be an argument for not acting on the basis of the knowledge we actually have today, not least when the EU’s common fisheries policy claims that the precautionary principle should applied when there is uncertainty about how one or more stocks develop. We believe that the available knowledge is more than sufficient to act. Especially since the risks and potential consequences for the Baltic Sea are so great.
There should be no obstacles for Sweden to impose restrictions along the east coast, such as a relocation of the trawl border to protect herring and herring. Earlier, the Swedish Maritime Administration said that a relocation of the trawl border would only affect Swedish fishing, and not other countries’ fishing. That’s not true. The solid work of the Environmental Objectives Committee shows that the EU’s common fisheries policy provides opportunities to regulate fishing within 12 nautical miles – an assessment we share. According to the report, however, consultation is required with, among others, the European Commission and our neighbouring countries Finland and Denmark, as we have specific fisheries agreements with them. Sweden must then, among other things, show that the regulation is the same for all countries that fish within 12 nautical miles. However, the agreements in the agreements are governing and the countries along the east coast fish based on the regulations of the coastal state, Sweden.
In the current quota negotiations within the EU Council, Sweden should vigorously promote too low herring quotas. For example, researchers from Stockholm University suggest that quotas should be set 50 percent lower than ICES ‘scientific advice, which could also benefit coastal fishing. Despite the fact that coastal fishermen in the Gulf of Bothnia have caught a fraction of this year’s normal catch, the Commission’s proposal remains a high level for next year’s quotas. With horizontal proposals, Swedish coastal fishing is at risk, especially in the north.
Introducing national restrictions within the 12-mile zone would not save all Baltic herring, but it would stop the worst competition for fish in favour of the environment, ecosystems and coastal and recreational fishing. It would provide some protection for the spawning herring and herring, which are also the conclusions from Stockholm University’s Baltic Sea Centre. An important additional measure would be if Sweden and Finland jointly set up a no-fishing zone in the centre of bottom-sea to protect the spawn collection of herring.
The almost 50-year agreements with Finland and Denmark were signed when fishing was conducted under completely different conditions and should not be the basis for continued unsustainable management. If the government wanted to change the agreements, there have been many chances in recent decades, and still exist today.
Now there is a political majority to move the trawl limit, and it is the right time for the government to act. Promoting too low quotas in the EU, withdrawing exemptions for industrial trawlers and protected areas from trawling are important and urgent steps. We therefore call on Ibrahim Baylan and Per Bolund to act as forcefully as the representatives who pushed through an emergency stop on fishing for Baltic cod. That time it was already too late to save the cod, and the stock collapsed. Do not let the herring meet the same fate.
Secretary General, Nature Conservation Association
Executive Member, Balticwaters2030