Fishing opportunities are catch limits for most fish species based on scientific advice, also known as total allowable catches (TACs). Fishing opportunities are proposed annually by the European Commission for all EU sea basins, including the Baltic. Currently, values have been suggested for 2024 for three of the ten stocks managed in the Baltic Sea. Other proposals will be developed at a later stage.
Fishing opportunities for individual fish species
In its adopted proposal, the European Commission is proposing to increase salmon fishing opportunities in the Gulf of Finland by 7 percent, while also asking for a 15 percent reduction in salmon fishing in the main basin and herring fishing in the Gulf of Riga by 20 percent.
For other stocks in the Baltic (cod and herring in the western Baltic Sea, cod in the eastern Baltic Sea, herring in the Gulf of Bothnia and the central Baltic Sea, sprat and plaice), the European Commission has asked the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) for additional information to better take into account the fact that cod is caught together with flatfish, and herring together with sprat. Fishing opportunities are a topic that requires a multi-directional approach in order to protect resources as effectively as possible.
The proposed TACs are based on the best available scientific advice from ICES and are in line with the multi-year management plan for the Baltic Sea region, adopted in 2016. By the European Parliament and the Council.
Other European Commission proposals defining fishing opportunities
With regard to cod in the eastern and western parts of the Baltic Sea, whose status is poor and biomass in 2022. remained at its lowest level – likely due to significant natural mortality – the European Commission is proposing to keep the TAC limited to unavoidable bycatch and all associated measures from 2023.
For herring in the western Baltic Sea, whose abundance remains below minimum levels, the European Commission is proposing to keep the TAC limited to unavoidable bycatch and to remove the exemption for small-scale coastal fisheries. With regard to herring in the Gulf of Bothnia and the herring stock in the central Baltic, which remains below minimum levels, the Commission is proposing to close the directed fishery and limit the TAC to unavoidable cases.
For the remaining fish species (plaice, sprat, salmon), the Commission requested additional information from ICES when preparing fishing opportunities.
The fishing situation in the Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is vulnerable, especially due to its shallow nature, limited connection to the ocean and slow water flow. Researchers estimate that since the early 1990s. Herring abundance in the central Baltic Sea is near or below the minimum level, and in the Gulf of Bothnia it has fallen below the corresponding level due to fewer juveniles and the smaller size of older ones.
The current situation is a difficult one for fishermen, as commercially fished stocks are affected by additional adverse factors that result especially from habitat loss in a degraded environment. Fishing opportunities are a key topic for them.
Member states must ensure that EU environmental legislation is implemented to improve the condition of the Baltic Sea and that they are enforced more effectively to allow fish stocks to recover.
Fishing opportunities – further stage of work
The proposal outlining fishing opportunities is in line with the European Union’s approach of adjusting fishing levels in such a way as to enable the achievement of long-term sustainability goals – so-called maximum sustainable yields (MSY) – that were agreed upon by the Council and the European Parliament in the Common Fisheries Policy. The Commission’s proposal is also in line with the policy intentions expressed in the Commission’s Communication “Sustainable fishing in the EU: current situation and orientations for 2024” and the multi-annual management plan for cod, herring and sprat stocks in the Baltic Sea.
On the basis of these proposals, EU countries will make a final decision to determine the maximum quantities of the most important commercially exploited fish species that can be caught in the Baltic Sea basin. The European Council will study the Commission’s proposal so that it can be adopted at a ministerial meeting on October 23-24 this year.
For more information on sustainable fishing in the EU, see a previous article:“Sustainable fishing in the EU: current situation and directions for 2024.”