In recent years scientific reports points out that the cod stocks in the Baltic are recovering. But even though this is true, the Baltic Sea fisheries are far from sustainable. Many other species are still red listed, fisheries causes very high levels of by-catch and discards, and destructive fishing gears are commonly used.
Commercial fishing in the Baltic Sea has a long tradition in all surrounding countries. Today, the most important commercially exploited fish species are cod, sprat and herring, with sprat and herring making up around 85 percent of total catches. Sprat and herring is mostly caught by industrial fishing vessels and the majority of the catches are used to produce fish meal, which is used, for example, for mink farms.
Cod is mostly caught with trawls, but also with passive gears such as gillnets, longlines and, to some extent, traps by the coastal fisheries. Bottom trawls pose a particular threat to life on the sea beds, as they destroy habitats when plowed along the sea bottom.
Other species caught for commercial use include plaice, flounder, perch and salmon.
For many years the cod stocks of the Baltic Sea were in worrying conditions. However, in recent years, some aspects of the fisheries management have improved. The eastern cod stock, located to the east of the Danish island of Bornholm, has grown in size after the introduction of different management measures, such as stricter control and a more responsible allocation of the amount of fish that is allowed to be caught each year.
However, Baltic Sea fisheries are far from sustainable and their management is facing important challenges on the way to rebuilding for fish stocks to historic abundance levels. Cod fisheries are subject to a high amount of by-catch of juvenile fish, leading to severe amounts of discarding – the practice of throwing dead, unwanted fish back into the water. And despite its increase in size, the eastern cod stock still consists of a very large proportion of small individuals, distributed across a relatively small area. The western cod stock is still exploited far above long term sustainable levels. Further north, in the Kattegat, the occurrence of cod is at a historical low, with only remnants of the species’ historic abundance left.
Furthermore, many of the salmon populations have gone extinct and only a few of the original salmon rivers in the Baltic Sea area are now suitable for spawning. Only a fraction of the virgin biomass of the European eel, which used to be caught with great abundance is left in the Baltic Sea. The problem is further increased by the fact that many commercial species, such as most stocks of flatfish, in the Baltic Sea lack adequate management measures through Total Allowable Catch (TAC) or other harvest control rules, and few are included in any long term management plans.
Oceana is of the opinion that fisheries should be managed with the objective to achieve long term sustainable catches – from an environmental as well as an economic perspective – in order to make the best use possible of our ocean resources. In order to achieve this we must:
- Set fishing quotas according to scientific advice
- Stop using destructive fishing gear – such as bottom trawls
- End the practice of discards
- Consider the impact fisheries are causing on all species, rather than focusing only on target species.