Fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2021: improving long-term sustainability of stocks

Fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2021: improving long-term sustainability of stocks

Fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2021: improving long-term sustainability of stocks

Fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2021: improving long-term sustainability of stocks

28/08/2020

The Commission has adopted its proposal for fishing opportunities 2021 for the Baltic Sea.

Eastern Baltic cod

Q: Why does the Commission propose to maintain all accompanying measures, and in addition, further reduce the by-catch total allowable catches, which is already very low in 2020?

It has been known for several years that Eastern Baltic cod was not doing well. In 2019, scientists discovered that the stock was actually in a worse state than expected and warned that this fish stock had been below safe biological limits for several years. It is expected to stay at such low depleted levels at least in the medium term even without any fishing. The Commission therefore invited Member States in early 2019 to take action. Some did, others did not. As the stock is widely distributed in the Baltic Sea and as all Member States of the Baltic Sea participate in the fishery, the Commission decided to take action at EU-level and adopted in July 2019 emergency measures prohibiting for the rest of 2019, fishing for cod in the most concerned areas with some derogations.

For 2020, scientists advised to totally stop any catches of cod. As many fisheries have at least some by-catches of cod, a total fishing ban would have led to “choke” situations. On the other hand, there could no longer be targeted fisheries on cod and by-catches of cod of course needed to be drastically limited. The Commission therefore proposed and the Council agreed to establish a very limiting total allowable catches (hereafter TAC) which can only be used for by-catches of cod in order to avoid that other fisheries in the Baltic Sea have to be stopped entirely. As the scientists had unfortunately not been in a position to provide on time a figure for those by-catches that cannot be avoided in other fisheries, the TAC was set based on an estimation made by the Commission.

As expected, for 2021 the scientist advise a continued stop for all catches of cod. In addition, the scientists provided different scenarios and related figures for by-catches of cod in other fisheries. The Commission has taken those figures as a basis for its proposal and estimates that the scenario of 20% cod by-catches on average in other fisheries is a reasonable one given the dire situation of the eastern Baltic cod stock.

Q: Why is the spawning closure maintained?

Science clearly states that such closures can have benefits for the stock, which cannot be achieved by a TAC alone. Scientists mention as an example for additional benefits that a closure may allow the cod to spawn without being disturbed and that this can lead to producing more young cod. Eastern Baltic cod is in a very poor condition and the Baltic Sea Multiannual Plan provides that when the amount of fish in the sea is below the limit level, further measures have to be taken to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. Against this background, it is appropriate to maintain the closure covering the entire peak spawning time (1st May to 31st August) and to forbid any disturbing fishing activity during that period, with an exception for purely scientific fishing activities and small-scale coastal fisheries using passive gear. In subdivision 24 of the Baltic Sea, both western and eastern Baltic cod occur but most is of the eastern stock. Therefore, it is appropriate to align the closure period with the one in subdivisions 25-26.   

Q: Why is the prohibition of recreational fishing for eastern Baltic cod maintained?

The scientists tell us that at the time when commercial catches of eastern Baltic cod were much higher, the quantities caught by recreational fisheries were negligible. The situation has however changed dramatically. Eastern Baltic cod is now in such a bad condition that scientists advised to stop all catches, including recreational.. This is also coherent with the Baltic Sea Multiannual Plan, which provides that when the size of a stock is below safe biological limits, further measures have to be taken to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. We therefore propose to continue this prohibition, already applicable in 2020, in 2021.

Western Baltic cod

Q: Why does the Commission propose reducing the TAC again?

After several difficult years, it seemed in 2018 that the efforts had paid off and the stock was doing better. The TAC for 2019 was therefore substantially increased by 70%. Since then, however, the scientists have found out that the situation has developed less well than previously estimated. The positive evolution was based on a single strong year-class, i.e. only in 2016 a lot of young cod were produced. Last year, the scientists estimated this strong year-class of 2016 to be 54% smaller than previously thought and the TAC for 2020 was reduced by 60%. With this level of reduction, the scientists estimated that the stock would recover to healthy levels in 2020. This, however, has not been the case. Scientists have revised the stock size downwards again, which continues to be below healthy levels. The Commission therefore proposes to be prudent and to set the TAC at the lowest point value of the maximum sustainable yield (hereafter MSY) range, while taking into account the level of by-catches in subdivision 24 of the Baltic Sea. Indeed, in subdivision 24 both western and eastern Baltic cod occur but most is of the eastern stock. Given the bad condition of the eastern stock, the Commission proposes to maintain the limitation of the use of the TAC in the deeper waters of subdivision 24 to by-catches only (areas deeper than 20m or beyond 6 nautical miles), with an exception for small-scale coastal fisheries using passive gear and purely scientific fishing activities.

Q: What about recreational fishing for Western Baltic cod?

Recreational fishing represents a substantial amount of the total catches of western Baltic cod. For 2020, it was decided to reduce the bag limit for anglers given the situation of the stock and the reduced TAC set for commercial fisheries. In subdivision 24, both western and eastern Baltic cod occur but most is of the eastern stock. It was therefore decided to prohibit recreational fishing in the deeper waters (beyond 6 nautical miles) given the bad condition of the eastern stock. The Commission proposes to continue this approach in 2021.

Q: Why does the Commission propose to maintain the spawning closure?

Western Baltic cod has been in a poor condition for many years and is still fragile, particularly because of low recruitement since 1999 and the lowest recruitment of all times in 2018 and 2019. Against this background, it is appropriate to maintain in subdivisions 22-23 of the Baltic sea, the spawning closure covering the peak spawning time of western Baltic cod (1st February to 30th March), and to prohibit any disturbing fishing activity during that period, with an exception for small-scale coastal fisheries using passive gear and purely scientific fishing activities. In subdivision 24, where both western and eastern Baltic cod occur but most is of the eastern stock, it is appropriate to align the spawning closure with the closure in subdivisions 25-26 (1st May to 31st August).

Other stocks

Q: Why does the Commission propose such a drastic reduction for

  • Western Baltic herring

In 2018, scientists looked at all the available information on western Baltic herring – known as a benchmark exercise. In this benchmark exercise, they found that the stock has been below safe biological limits since 2006. The scientists revised the stock size down, and it is currently less than half the minimum size. Like last year, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) therefore advises to stop all fishing. For such situations, the Baltic Multiannual Plan provides that measures need to be taken to ensure the rapid return of the stock to sustainable levels. In line with these provisions and continuing the approach from the previous years, where large reductions were adopted in Council, the Commission proposes to reduce the TAC by 50%.

  • Central Baltic herring

The Commission’s proposal corresponds to the scientific advice for the MSY. The scientists revised the stock size down by almost 50% and the current estimated stock size has dropped below healthy levels. For such situations, the Baltic Multiannual Plan provides that the TAC must be set below the upper MSY-range, so as to ensure the rapid return of the stock to sustainable levels. The stock continues to rely on one single good year-class, and that since 2016 recruitment has been below or on average. Fortunately, this year’s recruitment seems to be stronger and the scientists therefore estimate that the stock will return to healthy levels next year, if the TAC is reduced appropriately.   

Q: Why does the Commission not propose TAC increases for sprat and plaice?

The scientific advice and the Baltic Multiannual Plan would indeed allow for TAC increases. However, given various inter-species relations, the Commission proposes to take a prudent approach. Indeed, cod is an unavoidable by-catch in plaice fisheries. It would be inconsistent to propose to increase the TAC for plaice. A similar logic applies to sprat, which is caught in a mixed fishery with herring. The TAC for central Baltic herring however has to be substantially reduced and it would therefore be inconsistent to increase the TAC for sprat. Moreover, sprat is a prey species for cod in the eastern part of the Baltic Sea.

Q: The ICES advice for the two salmon TACs is stable. Why does the Commission propose to increase the TAC for salmon in the main basin but to reduce it for salmon in the Gulf of Finland?

The headline of the scientific advice is indeed largely unchanged. In the last years, the TAC was reduced because of serious issues of misreporting. According to the scientists, some legislative changes have fortunately led to a substantial improvement of the situation. The Commission therefore proposes to set the TAC according to what the scientists estimate to be the level of reported landings. This leads to an increase of the TAC in the main basin and a decrease in the Gulf of Finland. The Commission proposes to off-set the latter by increasing the existing inter-area flexibility.

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