NGOs complain EU reduction of Baltic Sea cod, herring catch limits not enough

In a midnight deal this week in Luxembourg, European Union fisheries ministers finalized catch limits for Baltic Sea species – and set some limits that are above the recommended scientific advice.

Eastern Baltic cod and Western Baltic herring are severely depleted and close to collapse, according to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). In May, ICES recommended zero catch for both western Baltic herring and eastern Baltic cod. The eastern cod fishery has been closed since July, a temporary ban that lasts through December.

Rather than eliminate fishing of the two iconic species entirely, the European Union Agriculture and Fisheries Council (AGRIFISH) agreed to "unprecedented" reductions in catch limits that are in line with the Baltic Management Plan, according to E.U. Environment, Maritime Affairs And Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella.

For western herring, the council reduced catch limits by 65 percent, setting the fishery on a path to no longer be threatened in 2023, according to Vella. For eastern cod, the council banned targeted fishing altogether, but allowed limited quota for unavoidable bycatch, "in order not to choke other fisheries," Vella said in a statement.

Overall, the council agreed to reduce fishing opportunities for six of the eight fully assessed Baltic stocks, in line with maximum sustainable yield, Vella said. The council also agreed on measures that would close areas for several months to protect the spawning periods of vulnerable stocks.

"Many Baltic fish stocks and ecosystems are in an alarming situation. This is not only a concern for the environment, but also a concern for the many local communities whose livelihoods depend on these ecosystems," Vella said.

However, conservation-focused NGOs rebuked AGRIFISH for setting five out of 10 fishing limits for fish caught in the Baltic Sea above the E.U.'s legal requirements for sustainable fishing. Under the E.U.'s Common Fisheries Policy, catch limits must be within sustainable levels and in line with scientific advice by 2020 at the latest.

"[This] agreement mostly wipes off a decade of work on the Common Fisheries Policy from its reform to current implementation," Pascale Moehrle, the executive director for Oceana Europe, said in a statement. "Disregarding the scientific advice and E.U. fishing law by fisheries ministers puts at risk the Baltic Sea ecosystem, its fish stocks and the fishermen, and also undermines the credibility of the E.U. as a whole."

Andrea Ripol, fisheries policy officer for Seas At Risk, expressed his organization’s consternation at the E.U.’s move in a statement.

“The ministers’ decision to breach the law will not only damage fish populations – and restrict their ability to replenish; it undermines the long-term economic viability of the fishing industry dependent on these fish, along with the ocean’s resilience to climate change.”

Photo courtesy of Our Fish


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