Eastern Baltic cod stock on the brink of collapse

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19 Apr

An increasing number of stakeholders, including the European Anglers Alliance, are urging the EU to intervene to save the Eastern Baltic cod stock from collapse.

According to a report published by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) at the beginning of April, the Eastern Baltic Cod stock is “estimated to be in extremely depleted state”. Indeed, according to the ICES’ findings, natural mortality has increased while growth and reproduction capacity have decreased. 

The Eastern Baltic Cod population has dramatically declined for many years and different factors, such as overfishing, eutrophication, food web interactions and climate change contributed to put a strain on the stock. 

Some cutting from the ICES report sum up the Eastern Baltic cod’s very dire situation: 

- “The Eastern Baltic stock is estimated to be in extremely depleted state. The historical fisheries in the 1980s resulted in the removal of larger fish. This in addition to changing environmental conditions have triggered changes in biological characteristics, including growth decline, earlier maturation, increase in natural mortality, and others.” 

- “Eastern Baltic cod is affected by multiple species interactions (seals, benthic prey, sprat and herring). The ecological processes related to these interactions ... are considered to contribute to the currently low productivity of the stock (low growth, high natural mortality).” 

- “A number of changes in Eastern Baltic cod biology have been observed in later years, which include reduced nutritional condition of fish, maturation at a smaller size and increased parasite infestation due to grey seals. In addition, relative abundance of larger individuals in the population has sharply declined since 2012...” 

- “Nutritional condition of adult cod has been continuously declining since the early 1990s. However, since the mid-2000s, the proportion of cod with a very low condition index has rapidly increased..."

- “The decline in cod condition is evident in all offshore areas of the central Baltic. Hypothesized main reasons for deteriorating nutritional condition include: 

(i) Low availability of fish prey in the main distribution area of cod, as sprat and herring are more northerly distributed with little overlap with cod... 

(ii) Poor oxygen conditions that can affect cod growth directly via altering metabolism or via shortage of benthic prey... 

(iii) Increased infestation with parasites, which is related to increased abundance of grey seals ... Growth of Eastern Baltic cod is expected to have declined, associated with the above mentioned ecological processes, and additionally in relation to reduced size at maturation. The same factors have presumably contributed to an increase in natural mortality of the stock.” 

Baltic NGOs and other stakeholders are urging the European Commission and the Member States to intervene by mean of emergency measures to close the fishery during the spawning months. 

The ICES advice for Baltic cod fishing opportunities for 2020 is expected at the end of May. 

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