A Glimmer of Hope for Baltic Cod, overshadowed by discards and food scarcity in the East
Baltic Sea fishing opportunities for 2018: LIFE views
Warsaw, 10 July 2017
As every year, the prospects for LIFE’s members, and the fate of the resources they depend on, hang on the discussions, negotiations, and decisions on setting catch levels and accompanying measures for Baltic fisheries in 2018. Our position, based on numerous discussions with our Members, is outlined below, a position that is also briefly reflected in the relevant BSAC Recommendation. For the sake of sustaining both small scale fishing livelihoods in the Baltic and the resources they depend on, we very much hope to be heard and heeded by decision-makers.
- Western Baltic cod: building on hope and luck, use the opportunities carefully!
Precaution is of paramount importance for any fisheries management. Too much optimism on Western cod, notable in decisions taken until 2015, has led us to the brink of stock collapse last year. This year, we were lucky with a very strong year class of 2016, which allows us to look at the future of this stock, so immensely important to many small-scale fishing communities, with a glimmer of hope.
A glimmer of hope, however, must not be answered by recklessness. So, no tampering please with the management measures that have enabled the recovery we are now starting to observe. This goes particularly for the extended spawning protection, which LIFE advocated as top priority last year. The closed season enacted last year must not change. Any relaxation here, let alone its abolishment, would be premature and risky for the fragile stock recovery, based as it is on just one year class. It may well be that prolonging the spawning closure in question, enacted back in 2015, allowed for the successful 2016 spawning.
The newly recruited cod need additional protection from being prematurely caught and discarded in trawl fisheries. As the results of EFCA campaigns show, this risk is terribly real with trawls currently in use and industry practices at sea. Therefore, LIFE lends its careful and conditional support for the repeated BSAC calls to promote the use of innovative mobile gears. The condition of our support is simple: there must be strong “checks and balances” by the authorities, at both national and EU level, ensuring that: a) new gears have been proven more selective than the currently used ones in a transparent scientific peer-review process, and b) intensive at-sea inspection campaigns are undertaken to weed out and deter from any practices nullifying selectivity.
On the TAC level, at LIFE we trust in the wisdom of decision-makers, as last year. We hope they will be mindful of the heavy TAC cut last year, swallowed with big difficulty by small-scale, low impact fleets. Many of us were forced to switch to fishing flatfishes for part of the season, with rather poor economic results. We note that ICES advice allows for a moderate TAC increase (around +9%), in full compliance with the multiannual plan. The real levels of discards in trawls observed by EFCA make case for the use of Article 17 of CFP Basic Regulation even stronger. We therefore very much hope that any increase will predominantly benefit those who behave responsibly and whose activities have the lowest possible impact on the resources.
- Eastern Baltic cod: curb illegal discarding and think of the food chain!
At first glance, ICES advice for the stock does not differ very substantially from that of last year. The difference in advised level of catches is about 3%. There are two particularly worrying signs though: the decline in stock size indicator and the level of discards, which ICES considers to be much higher than officially reported. This is confirmed by what our Members observe, and the situation seems to be even worse than last year in certain areas. It is therefore of paramount importance that the illegal cod discarding problem in the Eastern Baltic is urgently addressed – both by introducing innovative, more selective towed gears peer-reviewed by scientists and stepped-up at-sea inspections to weed out and deter any practices from nullifying selectivity.
It is equally important to analyze and fully respect the ICES advice, which points to the important role played by large-scale pelagic fisheries in current cod condition, characterized by food deprivation. ICES confirm the view already expressed by LIFE last year that there is excessive effort on forage fish, which makes their long-standing call for a spatial management plan for large pelagic fisheries in subdivisions 25-26 stronger than ever.
Managers must no longer ignore this call. The arguments presented by large pelagic fleet representatives simply won’t wash: modern pelagic trawlers of 25 meters length and (much) more are perfectly able to steam north of Subdivisions 25-26 to reap the benefits of strong pelagic species’ concentrations. ICES confirm that it would also be beneficial for the pelagic stocks there if they did.
As to the TAC level, we hope the managers will take on board that 3 years of consecutive TAC reductions have not relieved the woes of Eastern cod. Please don’t make the small-scale, low impact fishers of the Baltic Sea pay the heavy price for a difficult stock situation that is not of their making.
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 See slides 8-9 of presentation by EFCA Executive Director, Pascal Savouret, available here http://www.bsac.dk/getattachment/Meetings/BSAC-meetings/BALTFISH-BSAC-EFCA-Workshop-on-implementation-of-t/FromEFCA-BSAC-EFCA-BALTFISH-presentation-9-March-2017.pdf.aspx?lang=en-GB
See LIFE comments on 2017 Fishing Opportunities https://lifeplatform.eu/baltic-stocks-comments-highlights/
Crunch Time in Baltic: Opportunities and Threats for Cod and Small Scale Fishers.
Brussels, 29 September 2016
As 2017 Baltic TAC negotiations near conclusion, lobbyists are taking a plethora of public stances. Rather than muddying the waters further, LIFE would like to recall the main elements of its Action Plan for Western cod, elaborated in July.
Warsaw, 25th July 2016
Following ICES advice for 2017, LIFE’s Members of the Baltic Region (including Poland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany) elaborated the following action plan, to be presented to decision-makers, with concrete proposals for a correct management of the Western Baltic Cod stock. Cod is one of the main sources of income for small-scale fishers and is vital to maintain the livelihoods of local coastal communities in the Region.
Action Plan for Western Baltic cod stock following the ICES advice for 2017
LIFE is extremely worried at the latest ICES advice outlining the fishing opportunities for Western Baltic cod stock for 2017. The advised TAC of 917 tons constitutes an annual reduction of ca. 93%. It is perhaps the toughest practical stress test yet for the reformed CFP.
LIFE is of the opinion that the productivity of Western Baltic cod stock has been over-estimated for many years on the face of relatively strong year classes of 1990s and early 2000s. This unfortunate error allowed the long-lasting overfishing of the stock. The latest re-calculation of recruitment figures by ICES (table 22.214.171.124. as compared to advice from previous years) confirms this view. Another important problem is the amount of cod discards in pelagic trawling (SD24) and in demersal trawling (SD22), which may be higher than officially reported. Furthermore, towed gears are often used in a way that decreases or nullifies selectivity.
Moreover, recreational fishing and environmental/ecosystem factors, in particular the cod mortality caused by increasing seal population, add to the pressure on the stock. The seal damage to catches causes extra hardship for small-scale fishing communities, as the seals eat fish caught in their passive gears.
For 2017, ICES draws particular attention to very weak recruitment. The latest incoming year class is estimated at roughly 6% of long-term average, even if the F is slightly falling and SSB seems to have stabilized at level below Blim.
We are strongly convinced that the current state of Western cod stock calls for a development of broad and inventive Action Plan, rather than just focusing on business-as-usual: the short-sighted fight over the TAC levels or their allocations to Member States for next year we’ve been observing for too long.
Therefore, LIFE refrains from taking a position on specific TAC level for now, pending the developments on the Action Plan called for and outlined below. It is clear that overall,
a serious reduction of fishing opportunities, significantly more substantial than that of last year (-20%), has to be decided upon.
General thrust of the Action Plan
LIFE calls – in strongest terms – for recognition that just as we take utmost care for our most vulnerable fish stocks, we are obliged to take the utmost care for the most vulnerable fishers.
In concrete terms, this means that harsh measures needed to safeguard the stock should predominantly be targeted at those fleets that contribute the most to the fishing pressure on Western Baltic stock and are able, at least technically, to re-locate their effort to other areas and stocks.
The Action Plan is put together in the spirit of Article 5 of the new Baltic Multiannual Plan, which calls that all appropriate remedial measures be taken to ensure rapid return of the stock concerned to MSY levels and above.
LIFE calls upon EU Institutions, BALTFISH and Member States concerned to ensure that the measures outlined below are implemented without delay and become applicable as of 2017.
Elements of the Action Plan
- Protect the spawning stock by prolonged total trawling closure aimed at preserving pre-spawning and spawning concentrations. The closure should apply throughout February and March in the Subdivisions 22 and 23, i.e. where spawning occurs. Preserving the (still remaining…) spawning stock must be everyone’s priority.
- In the spirit of Article 17 of Basic CFP Regulation and in view of the significant TAC reduction, adopt incentivized cod avoidance plans for those fleets that are technically able to shift away from cod to other fisheries. In function of adopting cod avoidance plans, allocate the “released” fishing opportunities to those fishers who have no alternative and fish predominantly outside cod spawning zone with passive gears.
- Facilitate technical adjustments in towed gears that avoid by-catching cod – for the period outside the closure time mentioned in point 1. This goes particularly for directed flatfish fisheries with trawls.
- Managers should prioritize minimizing of by-catch of undersize and small cod, by new gear designs (including increasing the mesh size) and increase in the Minimum Conservation Reference Size, as deemed appropriate.
- Step up the control activities to prevent cod discards on the basis of risk analysis.
- Raise awareness of recreational fishers as to the situation of the Western cod stock to voluntarily decrease their pressure on it – until the cod stock has recovered. Introduce regulations on recreational fishing, such as bag limits for rod fishing. The regulations should assume equal burden-sharing compared to commercial fisheries.
- Take locally tailored measures to reduce damage to catches and gears caused by seals, by a.: facilitating movement to seal-safe gear, compensating for lost catches and gears, reducing seal and cormorant populations where allowed by environmental laws. In the longer run, environmental organizations need to re-think their seal and cormorant conservation policies.
- Use EMFF funding to offset the effects of these measures on the affected fleets.
LIFE is ready and willing to discuss this action plan with all the interested entities and persons, in particular the decision-makers of all appropriate levels.
It is the call for action with a set of concrete and constructive proposals from those whose livelihoods are directly and definitively threatened by the Western cod stock crisis. We ask all concerned to please act decisively before it’s too late – for the stock and for us.
FRESH COD SEASONED WITH MUSTARD HOLLANDAISE SAUCE,
FLOURY POTATOES AND CARROTS
From Ger’s kitchen
In The Netherlands, cod covered in mustard Hollandaise sauce with floury potatoes and carrots is the traditional dish on Fridays.
The reason is simple: cook fresh cod and put creativity at good use!
Country: the Netherlands
Serve the dish warm, with a glass of Gewurztraminer or Riesling
… and enjoy your evening!