ICES recommends radical cuts in Baltic Sea quotas

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23 Jun

On 28 May 2021, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) published its annual scientific advice for next year’s fishing opportunities for the Baltic Sea. The advice will be taken into consideration by the European Commission when drafting its quotas proposal for 2022, expected to be published later this summer. The Council will take its final decision, on the basis of the Commission’s proposal, in October. An overview of the advice is provided below.

Eastern Baltic cod (subdivisions 24-32)

For 2021, the Council agreed to a reduced TAC of 595 tonnes (by-catch only) for commercial fisheries and maintaining the fishing ban for recreational fisheries. It also maintained the existing summer spawning closure for the Eastern Baltic cod with an exception for purely scientific fisheries and small-scale coastal fisheries using specific gears.

For the third year in a row, the ICES however advises that “there should be zero catch in 2022” for cod in the eastern part of the Baltic Sea. The poor status of the eastern Baltic cod is largely driven by biological changes in the stock during the last decades. The population is not expected to recover in the medium-term, even with no fishing.

Western Spring Spawning Herring (Skagerrak, Kattegat and western Baltic, subdivisions 20-24)

For 2021, the Council agreed on a reduced TAC of 1,575 tonnes, in line with the Commission’s proposal.

For the fourth year in a row, the ICES however advises that “there should be zero catch in 2022” of western spring spawning herring. The stock is divided into three different management areas, meaning that reduced fishing pressure needs to be applied in all areas in order to allow the stock to recover.

Atlantic Salmon and Western Baltic cod

The ICES advices on the Western Baltic cod and the Atlantic Salmon have been postponed until September due to the high uncertainty in the assessment. Harry Strehlow, Head of the Marine Recreational Fisheries Working Group, explained: “Most of the cod catches in the western Baltic Sea consisted of those from the 2016 vintage. Due to the very low reproductive success of the last four years, catches will have to decrease significantly again. In addition, this year the average weight of the older classes have been updated and the biomass therefore appears smaller.”

Riga Herring (subdivision 28.1)

For 2021, the Council agreed on an increased TAC of 39,446 tonnes, in line with the Commission’s proposal and within the range of the EU multiannual plan.

The Riga Herring is a textbook case for respecting the recommendations of the ICES. The TAC has consistently been set in accordance with the previous ICES advice, allowing for a sustainable fishing pressure and a healthy population. For 2022, the ICES advises for an increased TAC ranging from 34,797 tonnes to 52,132 tonnes, due to the strong 2019 year class.

Central Baltic Sea Herring (subdivisions 25-29 and 32)

For 2021, the Council agreed on a reduced TAC of 97,551 tonnes, in line with the Commission’s proposal. The stock is shared with Russia, which does not have a management plan for the stock.

The ICES advises for a further reduced TAC ranging between 52,443 tonnes and 87,582 tonnes, due to the downward revision of the year class in 2019: the year class was estimated to be strong in the past but is now estimated to be below average. In addition, there has been no strong recruitment since 2015.

Gulf of Bothnia Herring (subdivisions 30-31)

For 2021, the Council agreed on a TAC of 65,018 tonnes, in line with the Commission’s proposal. However, the stock was benchmarked in 2021, and the stock assessment model and reference points were revised. Instead of a precautionary principle, the advice has changed to a MSY (Maximum Sustainable Yield) approach. Because of this, the advice for 2021 has been revised upwards to 117,485 tonnes.

The advice for 2022 is ranging between 86 729 tonnes and 111 714 tonnes, where the upper MSY limit 111 345 tonnes is a 5% reduction compared to the revised TAC for 2021.

Reactions

Sten Frohm, the Secretary General of Sportfiskarna, the Swedish Anglers Association, is appalled by the advice, as it would not lead to a functioning ecosystem in the Baltic Sea. Along most of the Swedish Baltic coast, the catches of herring from anglers and small-scale fishermen have been largely reduced the last few years. Landings from small-scale fisheries in 2021 are record low, causing a shortage of herring normally used for human consumption. The reason is believed to be Sweden´s system with large-scale industry trawlers, where most of the Swedish quota is taken close to the coast and shipped to Denmark for industry purposes. Furthermore, the ICES advice does not take into account the local ecosystem effects of these large-scale catches.

A group of Non-Governmental Organisations (Coalition Clean Baltic, Our Fish, Oceana, FishSec, WWF, Danish Society for Nature Conservation) is demanding that the European Commission follows the scientific advice and calls for an immediate transition to ecosystem-based, climate-smart, low-impact fishing. This would require, for example, closing the fisheries for Eastern Baltic cod and Western herring and effectively protecting cod spawning grounds from all fishing.
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