Given the current situation in the Baltic Sea and noting the substantial share of fish caught by recreational fisheries, the Council of the European Union decided to maintain a bag limit of five Western Baltic cods per day per angler, reduced to two per day per angler during the spawning period (February and March). The Council also decided to maintain the prohibition of recreational fishing for Eastern Baltic cod in subdivision 24 (beyond six nautical miles from the baselines) and in subdivisions 25 and 26.
The western Baltic cod stock has for decades been of huge importance to German, Danish and Swedish anglers. The abundance of cod in these coastal areas provides fishing possibilities, job opportunities and other added values all year round.
For commercial fisheries, despite an improving although still fragile situation for the Western Baltic cod, the Council decided
against the Commission’s proposal but within the ICES Advice on fishing opportunities, to increase the total allowable catches (TACs) by 5% compared to the previous year (from 3,806 tonnes in 2020 to 4,000 tonnes in 2021). Referring to the overall TACs agreed by EU ministers, Our Fish Program Director Rebecca Hubbard said that “by continuing to push fish populations to their very limits and beyond, we fail to change the future for Baltic Sea health, and cause continued pain and suffering for its coastal communities.”
Following the Commission’s proposal, the Council agreed to reduce TACs for the following species: Western herring (-50% compared to 2020), Central herring (-36%), Eastern cod (595 by-catch only, -70%) and Gulf of Finland salmon (-8%).
The Riga herring, the textbook case
for respecting ICES recommendations, sees an increase in its TAC for 2021 (39,446 tonnes, +15% compared to 2020), although higher than the ICES advice (35,771 tonnes).
The EAA member DAFV accepts in principle the decision of the Council to achieve the conservation and management of fish stocks in the Baltic Sea in a fragile situation, but warns against treating all fishing sectors in an equivalent way. It should be considered that anglers are responsible for the catches of cod in the Western Baltic Sea to a lesser extent (than professional fishermen), but that they generate a much higher economic turnover and more jobs. Against this background, the EAA calls for the socio-economic aspects to be taken into account in any data collection on recreational fishing catches that the EU may consider.
A coalition of NGOs, including Seas at Risk, Our Fish, WWF, Oceana and Coalition Clean Baltic, welcomed the agreement reached by the Council in accordance with scientific advice for eight of ten fish populations in the Baltic, but warned that the agreement is still not enough to save the herring, cod or Baltic Sea ecosystem and communities that depend on them.
Our Baltic conference
The decision comes on the heels of the Our Baltic Conference (28 September), during which Ministers for Environment, Agriculture and Fisheries from eight EU Member States in the region signed a Ministerial Declaration
, highlighting their concerns about the situation for the marine environment, due to pressures from human activities and climate change.
The Declaration notably encourages “efforts to improve the knowledge on recreational fishing in the Baltic Sea by collecting relevant data, so that this can be taken into account in the scientific assessment of fish stocks.” For example, for the Western Baltic cod, ICES points out to the uncertainty around recreational catches, considered higher than in commercial catches. It can thus only make assumptions when calculating the Total Allowable Catches for the region. Data collection on recreational fisheries is thus vital to better understand their impact on fish stocks.