On August 29th the European Commission released its annual proposal for fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2018. Despite a long history of the Western Baltic Cod stock being in poor condition, last year’s criticism by Oceana and a recent fishing scandal in Denmark, the Commission decided to maintain the status quo with an over ambitious proposal, setting catch limits four times higher than what is considered as sustainable. Such a proposal does not ensure the long-term recovery of the Western Baltic Cod.
Cod is the most valuable fish in the Baltic Sea and plays a key role in the region’s economy and ecosystem. Therefore it is of utmost importance to ensure the preservation and healthy status of the stocks. Oceana has actively been advocating for the fishing limits to be in line with the Common Fisheries Policy and based on scientific advice by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). However, the Commission seems to be largely ignoring both the scientific advice and the recommendations by the conservation groups by deciding to propose the same fishing limit as last year.
"The European Commission shows yet again lack of ambition to stop overfishing in the Baltic fisheries. Maintaining the same catch limit for the Western Baltic Cod as 2017 allows for continuous depletion of the stock, leaving it on the verge of collapse” - said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of Oceana Europe. “We’re reminding the Commission of their binding obligation to recover European fisheries to sustainable levels in line with the Common Fisheries Policy as after 2020 overfishing of EU stocks will be illegal under the EU law,” added Gustavsson.
The scientific recommendation for the Western Baltic Cod states that total commercial catches from the stock in 2018 should be between 1376 tonnes and 3541 tonnes, which correspond to the mortality ranges agreed in the multiannual plan. Due to the poor condition of the stock and severe level of overfishing, Oceana recommends that catches should not exceed 1376 tonnes.
In just 10 years, the commercial catches of the Western Cod stock have dropped by more than half, largely due to continuous overfishing and a streak of bad recruitments. A recent study commissioned by Oceana found that if fished sustainably, catches of western Baltic cod can increase by 40.000 tonnes (331%), leading at the same time to economic growth in the fishing sector.
A final decision based on Tuesday’s proposal will be taken at the EU’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 9-10th October.