Let me start by thanking the Austrian Presidency, and in particular the Minister herself, Elizabeth Köstinger, for facilitating the discussions today. I would also like to thank Sweden for their excellent work, especially Minister Sven-Erik Bucht as Baltfish Chair and also the Member States for all their preparatory work.
We have had a very productive Council covering fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea, which were adopted unanimously, preparations for the next meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), and preparations on fishing arrangements with Norway.
Firstly on fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2019
Today there was a real understanding around the table that we cannot be complacent. The Baltic ecosystem is a fragile one with pollution and ensuing eutrophication. And although some stocks are doing better than others, overfishing still exists and the biomass of some stocks is still not at a healthy level.
Therefore, there was broad recognition that our decisions for 2019 need to be ambitious and responsible, in line with the objective to reach maximum sustainable yield (or MSY) levels by 2020 at the latest.
I am therefore happy to say that for 7 stocks out of 8 for which scientists provided an MSY-advice, we have fixed total allowable catches at sustainable levels.
This means that in 2019 over 98% of estimated landings in the Baltic Sea will come from sustainable fisheries.
And as we have said before, sustainable fishing pays off, so there is equally good news for our fishermen.
Our decisions today will mean nearly 1 billion euros worth of landings with an average gross profit margin of above 30%, which is a very healthy level of profitability. And 9 of the top 10 most profitable fleets are going to be small-scale.
Let me now say a few words on some specific stocks.
We agreed to increase catches of western cod, sprat, plaice and Gulf of Riga herring. We kept the same levels of catches as last year for salmon in the main basin. And we decided to decrease catches for eastern cod, salmon in the Gulf of Finland and for western, central and eastern herring, as well as herring in the Gulf of Bothnia.
Let me mention two specific stocks of interest, western cod and western herring.
On western cod, I am pleased that things are looking better in 2019. However, the stock is not yet seeing a sustained recovery. It is a good story that rests entirely on one good year in 2016. This is why it was important to limit the increase to levels that will still leave enough of that good year in the sea so that this fish can fill up the stock and produce more fish for the years to come.
While Council today has decided to increase the catch limits by more than that proposed by the Commission, this increase will still keep this catch limit in the lower half of the lower MSY-range. This should still help us to stay at sustainable levels also in the coming years.
This takes me to the fishery which has now become our biggest worry in the Baltic: western herring.
Here, the Council agreed to a reduction by 48% and additional conservation measures to be taken by the Member States. This is less than what the Commission has proposed. However, it is still below the lowest point of MSY range based on the latest scientific information and it will allow the biomass to increase by around 4%. This was an essential criterion for me to be able to support the compromise.
And let me just briefly say a few words on two other points we discussed: preparations for the next meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and fishing arrangements with Norway.
On ICCAT, let me start by saying that experience shows that determination and courage is paying off. This is thanks to the EU leadership in ICCAT and in particular the important decisions taken 10 years ago on Bluefin tuna, on the basis of scientific advice.
Last year ICCAT scientists were able to recommend a further progressive increase of the TAC for eastern and Mediterranean Bluefin tuna.
As it was the case 10 years ago, we are again facing a crucial moment for important decisions in ICCAT. This time in particular for bigeye tuna, a stock which continues to be overfished. I therefore stressed that the EU, along with our partners in ICCAT, will have to make serious efforts to reduce the fishing mortality of this stock and to improve its status.
Lastly on Norway
Norway is a strategic partner in our fisheries relations. We have discussed with the ministers preparations for the annual consultations that we will have with Norway in November.
The main objective of these consultations is to agree, for 2019, on management measures for joint stocks in the North Sea and in Skagerrak, and the reciprocal exchange of fishing opportunities.
I am confident that we will reach a fair and equitable deal. A deal that takes the objectives of the common fisheries policy into account. A deal that serves our interest and continues our longstanding relationship with Norway, on which many of our fishermen depend.
Thank you and thanks again to the Minister.