Luxembourg, 24 October 2023: Today, EU fisheries ministers have taken decisions concerning declining Baltic Sea herring stocks that will actively contribute to the further deterioration of the ecosystem and its fish stocks and that go against EU fisheries law. They chose to keep the targeted fishery for herring in the Gulf of Bothnia and the Central Baltic open at a level associated with an unlawfully high risk of ecosystem collapse, irresponsibly jeopardising the already stressed ecosystem.

The European Commission had proposed, before the meeting, closing the targeted fishery for this species, in line with the Baltic Multiannual Plan that governs fisheries in the Baltic Sea and as agreed by all EU Member States and the European Parliament back in 2016. With many Baltic Sea populations on a downward trend and an ever-increasing risk of ecosystem collapse, the outcome of these negotiations is a missed opportunity to set this sea on a path to recovery and sustainable fisheries in the long term. 

Bruno Nicostrate, Senior Policy officer for Seas At Risk said: “By yet again ignoring EU law and scientific advice, today’s decision by EU Fisheries Ministers will not only contribute to the disappearance of Baltic herring populations but will also pave the way for the decimation of other fish species. Instead of protecting the livelihoods of fishers for future generations in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis, EU Member States have opted to save a few industrial fisheries. We call on the Commission and Parliament to use all legal tools at their disposal, including those in the Baltic Multiannual Plan, to make sure Member States respect their own rules and prevent the destruction of European biodiversity.”

One of the main drivers of the drastic decline of Baltic herring is the unsustainable fishery for herring and sprat that are used in fishmeal and fish oil. These small fish provide a vital food source for larger fish like cod, marine mammals, and seabirds, so it is crucial that enough of these so-called forage fish remain available for Baltic wildlife. This is why it is disappointing that the catch limits for sprat were also set higher than levels that would safeguard overall ecosystem health, functioning and resilience. With regards to Western Baltic herring, the continued closure for targeted fishing is important, but ministers need to take additional measures to ensure minimal bycatch of this stock in the North Sea herring fishery.  

Outcomes for other fish stocks

NGOs welcome that fisheries ministers upheld the Commission’s proposal to prohibit targeted fishing of Eastern and Western Baltic cod, and finally agreed to close the recreational catch of Western Baltic cod, which, according to scientists, represented 68% of the total fishing mortality of the stock. At the same time, NGOs regret that the bycatch quota set for Western Baltic cod is higher than the maximum fishing mortality advised by scientists. It is imperative that fishing mortality, even caused by bycatch, remains extremely low in order to recover this vulnerable stock, which is considered to be collapsed. 

Concerning salmon catches, the Council accepted the Commission’s proposal to close the Bothnian Sea area north of the Åland islands, but demanded that extra scientific advice be provided to see if fishing could be kept open there, with further protective measures in place.

The ministers’ decision to roll over last year’s quota of plaice is a small step in the right direction, since a higher plaice quota would risk higher bycatches of both Baltic cod stocks. However, an even lower fishing limit would have benefitted the recovery of the vulnerable cod stocks.

Press release from BalticWaters, Coalition Clean Baltic, ClientEarth, the Danish Society for Nature Conservation, Deutsche Umwelthilfe,The Fisheries Secretariat, Oceana, Seas At Risk, and WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme