It is not too late to save Baltic cod. The FishSec proposes key steps to aid its recovery

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10 May

Last March, the Fisheries Secretariat published an extensive study on the Baltic cod population and its dramatic decline since the 1980s. The study looks at a wide variety of factors, from overfishing to climate change. Recommending the implementation an eco-system approach, the Fisheries Secretariat sets out a list of nine steps to aid the recovery of cod in the Baltic Sea.

For centuries, cod has been an important source of food for the countries around the Baltic Sea. But the pressure on fish stocks became so unsustainable in recent decades that this led to a massive decline over the years. For example, the total catch of Eastern Baltic cod reached its peak in 1984 with 409,182 tonnes and decreased substantially since then to reach 21,605 tonnes in 2018.

Seeing the dire stock situation, the European Union announced in 2019 emergency measures. For the past three years, the quota for Eastern Baltic cod was drastically reduced, but still allows commercial fisheries to have an ‘unavoidable bycatch’ quota. A ban on recreational fisheries for this species was also announced. Similar measures were taken for the Western Baltic cod, with a reduced commercial quota and a bag limit for recreational fisheries. But targeted commercial fisheries and overfishing are not the only problem with the cod population in the Baltic Sea.

The ecosystem in the Baltic Sea is very peculiar, as a shallow sea basin with challenging conditions such as low salinity and oxygen concentration. But these difficult limitations under which cod managed to thrive are further aggravated by human activities (eutrophication, chemical pollution, habitat destruction) and climate change, which affects the sea temperature and thus the feeding patterns, reproduction and spawning times of cod.

To counter these dramatic effects, the study proposes to implement an ecosystem-based approach with the following steps:

  1. Implement multi-species management in demersal fisheries;
  2. Add a sufficient precautionary buffer to the fishing quotas;
  3. Set industrial fishing limits based on the precautionary approach;
  4. Prioritise low impact fishing;
  5. Make Remote Electronic Monitoring mandatory in fisheries;
  6. Mandatory selectivity measures to reduce bycatch;
  7. Implement the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan;
  8. Actively work to restore damaged ecosystems & minimise bottom trawling; and
  9. Connect environment and fisheries in legislation, policy and implementation.

When presenting the report, Jan Isakson, director of The Fisheries Secretariat, said: “It is not too late to save Baltic cod. Decision makers need to take a bold approach and implement sustainable management solutions across the board and actively work to integrate fisheries and environment policy and legislation.”

The report is produced by the Fisheries Secretariat as part of the Return of the Cod project. The project is dedicated to creating the conditions for restoring cod populations in the Baltic Sea. The Return of the Cod project is funded by the Swedish Postcode Foundation and by the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management. EAA member from Denmark – Danmarks Sportsfiskerforbund – is part of the project.

Link to the full report

Link to the EAA position on recreational fishing for Western Baltic cod in 2022
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