NGOs have expressed disappointment following the EU AGRIFISH Council announcement on fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2022
Following the EU AGRIFISH Council press conference yesterday, 12 October 2021, NGOs expressed disappointment that Member State fisheries ministers again haggled all night to raise Baltic fishing limits for 2022 above the European Commission’s proposal and against the clear scientific advice aimed at saving Baltic fish populations.
However, NGOs also acknowledge that some progress was made towards considering ecosystem impacts of fishing.
The European Commission’s proposal for Baltic fishing limits adopted a cautious approach due to the extremely degraded state of the Baltic Sea ecosystem, and took into account wider ecosystem considerations and interactions between species. Fisheries ministers agreed higher fishing limits for sprat, central Baltic herring, and plaice compared to the Commission’s proposal, however still below the maximum threshold recommended by the scientists, which NGOs recognise is a step in the right direction towards ecosystem-based fisheries management.
The AGRIFISH Council did agree to close targeted fishing on salmon in the south Baltic but still set a bycatch TACs for all countries and allowed recreational fishing to catch and release wild salmon. This is not in line with the scientific advice that called for a complete halt to salmon fishing in the south to protect vulnerable stocks.
Fisheries Ministers accepted the Commission’s proposal supported by scientific advice to halt targeted fishing of eastern and western Baltic cod, and western Baltic herring. Two out of three of these fish populations are in such a bad state that scientists recommend zero catch, not even as ‘unintentional’ bycatch in other fisheries. This was unfortunately not followed by the decision makers.
“Baltic cod stocks are already gone; one herring stock is gone, while another is close to a collapse. The terrifying situation in the Baltic Sea and the continued setting of TACs according to an old harvest thinking shows how broken the system really is and we need a new one.” said Nils Höglund of Coalition Clean Baltic. “Science and the EU law provided the basis for the Commission’s original proposal and the Commissioner clearly stood his ground, and for that he and his team deserves praise and so do the States that supported him. However several Member States have once again chosen short term gains for a few fishermen in big boats, fishing for fishmeal.”
“We are satisfied that EU fisheries ministers listened to some extent to the progressive proposal from the European Commission on Baltic sprat, central Baltic herring and plaice fishing limits, which is a clear step towards implementation of the ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management, as required by the Common Fisheries Policy”, said Justyna Zajchowska, Marine Conservation Senior Specialist in WWF Poland. “On the other hand WWF is concerned that ministers set four out of the ten Total Allowable Catches (TACs) exceeding scientific recommendations, including for salmon.”
“The return of healthy Baltic fish stocks is critical. A key challenge to achieving this will be adopting management measures that go far beyond the single species management,” said Jan Isakson, FishSec Director. ”Ecosystem based approach to fisheries management is a legal obligation according to the Common Fisheries Policy and today’s decision adheres to this in some ways, but we were hoping for more substantial outcomes and we are concerned about the short sighted perspective given the severe circumstances we are facing in the Baltic Sea.”
“In recent years there has been a trend to narrow the gap between the scientific advice and the catch limits adopted by the Council for the Baltic Sea, but this gap still persists. Thus, overexploitation continues to be of great concern for certain stocks of for example cod, herring or salmon“ said Javier López, Oceana´s Campaign Director for Sustainable Fisheries in Europe. “We need to see greater ambition in the management of Baltic fish stocks. Fishing activity must stop exacerbating the ecological crisis and become part of the long-term health solution for the Baltic Sea. However, we will have to wait at least another year for that to happen.”
“The fisheries Council today made some steps in the right direction by closing fisheries of collapsed fish stocks like cod and herring. However, this decision may come too late, especially since bycatch of these fish is still allowed”, said Andrea Ripol, Fisheries Policy Officer of Seas At Risk. “This will not prevent the looming collapse of the Baltic ecosystem, with iconic fish populations vanishing right in front of our eyes.”
“We thank the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, for playing hardball to get Baltic fisheries management back on track. Some key fish populations remain chronically overfished so the tragedy of the collapsing Baltic Sea ecosystem and its devastating impacts on the fishing community will continue”, said Rebecca Hubbard, Our Fish Program Director. “Baltic fisheries ministers must continue to listen to the ocean and the science, and now prioritise access to the small amount of fishing that remains for low-impact and low-carbon fishing vessels, so that we can try to salvage a future that involves a living Baltic Sea and the benefits from climate protection it can offer.”
Press release from Coalition Clean Baltic, FishSec, Our Fish, Oceana, Seas at Risk and WWF