EU Council follows Commission line and reduces Baltic fishing quota

EU ministers have clinched a midnight deal in Luxembourg on the fishing quota limit in the Baltic Sea for 2020, following the Commission’s proposal to decrease the total allowable catches (TACs) for eight out of ten most commercially important fish stocks in the basin.

Fisheries ministers gathered in the Agrifish Council on Monday (14 October) to decide how much fish Baltic fishermen are allowed to catch and under what conditions.

This year, the Council agreed to increase the quota only for herring in the Gulf of Riga by 11% and to keep the same level of catches for salmon in the Gulf of Finland, curbing fishing other opportunities for other stocks though.

In particular, catch limits for the Western Baltic cod were cut by 60% in order to have the stock no longer under risk of collapse in 2023, while the ban on fishing Eastern Baltic cod was substantially confirmed as only 2,000 tonnes of unavoidable by-catches were allowed.

The fishing quota for Eastern Baltic cod stock has been reduced each year since 2014 to just over 24,000 tonnes in 2019 and in July the Commission took emergency measures to rebuild the stock, banning its commercial fishing until 31 December 2019.

Despite minor changes in the final text, the EU Council followed the Commission’s suggestions before the summit and even Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella told ministers at the end of the plenary session that he would endorse the final package of quota agreed, an EU source told EURACTIV.com.

“Last night we took some very difficult but much-needed decisions concerning fishing in the Baltic sea,” commented Karmenu Vella in the press conference after the Council.

He pointed out that, under the new agreement, six stocks will be managed in line with the maximum sustainability yields (MSY), while for Western herrings and Eastern Baltic cod unprecedented reductions were taken in line with the Baltic management plan.

Baltic States commitment

From the very beginning of the meeting, ministers seemed to be aware that sacrifices and tough decisions would have been necessary to help the stock recover from the alarming situation in the basin, an EU source told EURACTIV.

Finnish minister and Council rotating president Jari Leppä said it was a necessary, responsible but difficult decision: “Of course, this will have socio-economic repercussions and together with the Commission, we will able to find a solution to problems,” the minister said.

Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Poland and the European Commission signed a non-public written statement two and a half pages long on the mitigation of the social-economic effect of the crisis in Baltic fisheries.

In the statement, Baltic member states insisted on proper management of the overfished stock to avoid spillover effects on other species, as well as on the need to recognise the social-economic consequences of reducing catches.

Baltic countries also made a commitment to effectively address at the roots the other causes of collapsing fish stocks, such as pollution and habitat degradation resulting from industrial and agricultural activities, recognising that fishing activities is only one and sometimes not the main cause of poor stock status.

According to a source, member state delegations overturned the request from the Commission to set out an electronic control of catches on all the fishing vessels in order to better implement the new fishing quotas.

NGO criticism

All the NGOs for marine conservation deemed the final deal as not enough ambitious in addressing the plague of overfishing and disregarding scientific advice.

“Eastern Baltic cod and the western Baltic herring stocks are in a critical state with their numbers nearly depleted,” said Ottilia Thoreson, director of the WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme, who added that scientific advice clearly states that fishing limits for these stocks should be set to zero.

Our Fish, a leading NGO active in end overfishing, pointed out the decision was not in line with the legally binding deadline to stop overfishing for all fish stocks by 2020, set out in Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

“With less than three months until the EU’s own deadline to end overfishing, fisheries ministers are repeating the same destructive overfishing again and again, but apparently expecting a different result. That’s one definition of insanity,” was the comment of Rebecca Hubbard, programme director for Our Fish.

The next ‘fishing quota night’ will be in Brussels during the EU Agrifish Council on 16-17 December, when there will be a decision on the fishing quotas for next year in the Northeast Atlantic waters.

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