Baltic Sea fish stocks at risk of ‘commercial extinction’

written by Oceanographic staff

Campaigners have called on fisheries ministers to end the annual cycle of Baltic Sea overfishing or risk the commercial extinction of certain stocks.

The call has come in response to reports on Baltic fish stocks published today by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

“Due to years of poor management and continued Baltic Sea overfishing, iconic fish stocks such as Baltic cod and western herring are in perilously bad shape, while illegal discarding continues unabated,” said Our Fish Programme Director Rebecca Hubbard.

“In 2017, governments knowingly perpetuated overfishing by setting four out of ten Baltic fish stocks above scientific advice. This year, fisheries ministers must pay particular attention to the detail of the ICES reports – and act with extreme caution when setting 2019 quotas to ensure that fish populations can be rebuilt to healthy levels.”


ICES found that the western Baltic cod population remains extremely depleted, and below safe biological levels. “Last year Baltic Sea Fisheries Ministers ignored scientific advice and set catch limits far above ICES advice. This year, we see the results – eastern Baltic cod catch advice has been slashed, and western cod stocks are perched on a knife edge and illegal discarding of juvenile fish has doubled,” said Hubbard. “Fisheries Ministers need to note ICES strong warnings and set the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for Baltic cod at the lowest levels proposed for commercial and recreational fishers.”


According to ICES, the Baltic’s Western herring stocks have been outside safe biological limits since 2008, with low recruitment since the mid-2000s, reaching a record low in 2016 and 2017. Despite fishing pressure being far above sustainable levels (Maximum Sustainable Yield) between 1992 and 2009, coinciding with a crash in fish stock size, fishing pressure was not substantially decreased even after 2010.

“In a damning indictment of poor fishery management, ICES recommends that catches for the Western spring spawning herring should be zero, due to continued Baltic Sea overfishing. This sends a clear message to Baltic fisheries ministers that they cannot continue to ignore nature’s limits without repercussions. This year, fisheries ministers must end the decades of overfishing of western herring or risk commercial extinction of an ecologically important fish stock,” said Hubbard.


Despite ICES reporting the Plaice fishery to be in reasonably good health, with fishing pressure decreasing and stock populations increasing in recent years, illegal discarding is now considered to be widespread in the Baltic.

“Only seven tonnes of undersized plaice was landed in 2017, whereas researchers estimate the real figure is over 400 tonnes higher, with 100% of the catch still being discarded in some fleets. This constitutes not only a huge waste of marine resources, but illegal, unreported fishing. Baltic Sea member states – especially Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Poland – must start dealing with this IUU fishing in their fleets by significantly increasing monitoring and control at sea,” concluded Hubbard.

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