European Commission raises 2018 prospect of raising Baltic Sea fishing quotas

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The European Commission is to propose an increase in herring and salmon fishing quotas for 2018 as responsible management measures by Member States and the fishing industry look to be paying off.

In addition to increase catches for Central Herring, Sprat and the Main Basin Salmon stocks, the European Commission is also looking to maintain the number of catches for Western Baltic Cod.

However, scientific evidence and historically low levels have led to the ban in Baltic Eel fisheries, which are not normally part of the annual allowable catch proposals.

We are proposing a balanced package that will ensure sustainable fisheries in the Baltic Sea,” commented Karmenu Vella, commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs.

“The good news is that important quotas for Baltic herring and salmon can be increased. Now we must learn from these success stories and act urgently for those stocks that are still in a worrying state, like the European eel."

Sustainability efforts

The proposal is part of the European Union's approach to adjust levels of fishing to long-term sustainability targets, or maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2020 as agreed by Member States and the European Parliament in the Common Fisheries Policy.

Research from the International Council on the Exploration of the Seas, has identified that whilst most of the Baltic Sea fish stocks are fished at or below the maximum sustainable yield, a number of stocks are currently being exploited above this yield, namely western cod, herring in the Gulf of Riga and sprat in the Baltic Sea.

In addition, the Baltic multiannual management plan, adopted last year by Member States and the European Parliament, looks to address diminishing stocks of cod, herring and sprat in the Baltic Sea and the fisheries exploiting those stocks.

Efforts by stakeholders in recent years have already succeeded in rebuilding commercially viable stocks in the Baltic. Between 2012 and 2016, the overall biomass of pelagic stocks increased by 50%.

However, the Commission has stressed the need for further action to ensure all stocks are exploited at sustainable levels.

Fish at risk

The Commission’s proposals includes the largest proposed increase (25%) for 2018 for Central Herring stock.

However, proposals to reduce Western Herring catch by 54% is in addition to a 50% reduction of Herring catch in the Gulf of Bothnia.

Meanwhile, Western Baltic Cod quotas have been on a downward spiral as 2017 allowable catches were reduced by 56% compared to 2016. Here, additional measures like closure periods and limiting recreational fishing were taken.

“Currently, the stock is still below the threshold of biologically safe limits,” the Commission stated.

“The Commission therefore considers it necessary to maintain existing measures to ensure that young cod can reproduce and help rebuild the stock.

“For Eastern Cod, scientist’s advice that catches are significantly reduced as the stock remains data-limited and scientists detect a slow growth. The Commission is therefore following a precautionary approach and proposes a reduction of 28%.”

The Commission advised that the scientific advice for Main Basin Salmon, a stable stock, allowed for an increase in catches by 11%.

In contrast, the European Eel stock, at a historically low stock level since the late 1990s, is subject to a recommended fishing ban in the EU waters of the Baltic Sea for 2018. The ban would apply to commercial and recreational fishing.

European Ministers for Fisheries will now examine the Commission proposal, with the aim of adopting it during the Fisheries Council of 9-10 October.

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