Seas At Risk criticises the decision of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council to sanction continued overfishing of Baltic cod. Fishing limits set above scientific advice will put the already pressured cod stocks at risk of collapse with detrimental effects for the small scale fishing fleets and coastal communities.

The Western Baltic cod stock has been severely overfished. Recruitment is at the lowest levels recorded and biomass is below the critical limit. Drastic action is urgently needed to ensure recovery of the stock, but the Fisheries Council lacked the required ambition and political will. The Fisheries Secretariat and Seas At Risk, concerned by the overfished Western Baltic cod, had urged Ministers of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council earlier to set fishing limits to 917 tonnes, in line with scientific advice, corresponding to a 93% reduction of quota for Western Baltic cod. However, the Council agreed on a much higher limit, 5597 tonnes, which represents a reduction of 56% of the current Total Allowable Catch.

The Eastern Baltic cod stock also shows severe signs of overfishing similar to those observed in Newfoundland, Canada, where the northern cod fishery collapsed. For the Eastern Baltic stock, the Fisheries Ministers decided to reduce the Total Allowable Catch by only 25% instead of the recommended 39%, which would have enabled a speedier recovery.  

Ministers also agreed on a reduction of recreational fishing for cod, but they failed to clarify how this decision will be enforced and monitored.

This was the first time that the Fisheries Council decided on Baltic fishing limits after the Baltic Sea multi-species and multi-annual fisheries management plan (Baltic MAP) had been agreed in co-decision with the European Parliament and the Council. Multi-annual fisheries management plans define the rules for setting the fishing limits, but the annual decision on the fishing limits is taken by the Council alone. By pushing the interpretation of the Baltic MAP rules to the very limit in order to get to these high quotas for cod, the Fisheries Council showed its disrespect for the objectives of the agreement with the European Parliament.  Since the Baltic MAP is the first of a series of regional fisheries management plans that will be negotiated between the Parliament and the Council, this way of applying the rules raises questions about the way the rules should look like in the upcoming management plans.

The Fisheries Council also decided on fishing limits for sprat, the herring stocks, plaice and salmon, and SAR welcomes these decisions as they are in line with scientific advice, raising expectations for a continued upward trend for these stocks. 

 

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