Brussels enacts emergency ban to protect Baltic cod

Emergency measures to save the ailing eastern Baltic cod stock from impending collapse have been announced by the European Commission. With immediate effect, commercial fishing for cod is banned in most of the Baltic Sea until 31 December, 2019.

The ban covers all fishing vessels and applies in all those areas of the Baltic Sea where the largest part of the stock is present, namely subdivisions 24-26, except for some specific targeted derogations. 

It follows measures that have already been taken by some European Union member states, but given that these measures have not ensured a uniform approach in all areas where the eastern Baltic cod stock is found, and that not all member states intended to adopt national measures, the Commission decided that further emergency action was warranted.

"The impact of this cod stock collapsing would be catastrophic for the livelihoods of many fishermen and coastal communities all around the Baltic Sea. We must urgently act to rebuild the stock – in the interest of fish and fishermen alike. That means responding rapidly to an immediate threat now, through the emergency measures the commission is taking. But it also means managing the stock – and the habitat it lives in – properly in the long term," E.U. Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs, and Fisheries Karmenu Vella.

The commission and member states will revisit the need for longer-term action later in the year, when ministers meet to decide on next year's fishing opportunities, Vella said.

The fishing ban has been welcomed by members of the NGO community. 

“Baltic cod is an iconic species that plays a key role in the Baltic Sea ecosystem, both environmentally and commercially. It has been supporting the livelihoods of fishing-reliant communities for decades,” Oceana Fisheries Policy Advisor Andrzej Białaś said. "The temporary ban comes at a critical time – the middle of the cod spawning season. Now, there is a chance to protect whatever little amount of cod is still left in the Baltic Sea, although a longer-term action plan is nevertheless crucial to guarantee its proper recovery.”

Scientists have also warned of other factors that threaten the stock and that need to be addressed, including a lack of salinity, water temperatures that are too high and that contain too little oxygen, as well as parasite infestation.

Following scientific advice, total allowable catches (TACs) for eastern Baltic cod have been reduced every year since 2014, from 65,934 metric tons (MT) down to 24,112 MT in 2019. Even so, in the last years fishermen only used up between 40 and 60 percent of the TAC, probably due to a lack of fish of commercial size. Indeed, the E.C. highlighted that according to scientists, the volume of commercial sized cod (35 centimeters and above) is currently at the lowest level observed since the 1950s. 

This year, fishermen have so far used around 21 percent of their available quota.

More than 7,000 E.U. member state fishing vessels catch eastern Baltic cod, with 182 vessels from Lithuania and Poland depending on this stock for more than 50 percent of their catches.

Under the E.U.’s Common Fisheries Policy, the E.C. may, at the reasoned request of a member state or on its own initiative, take emergency measures to alleviate a serious threat to the conservation of marine biological resources. These measures may be applicable for a maximum period of six months. It has previously taken such emergency measures to protect other vulnerable stocks, including anchovy in the Bay of Biscay and northern seabass populations.

Photo courtesy of Miroslav Halama/Shutterstock


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