The Baltic fisheries plan is about more than just the Baltic

The Baltic Sea at Maasholm, Germany.
The Baltic Sea at Maasholm, Germany. The success of fisheries plan for this sea is the first step to get us on the way to healthy seas and oceans. Photo: Christof/Flickr

On 28 September, the European Parliament, led by MEP Jarosław Wałęsa, and the European Council, led by the Luxembourgish Presidency, go back behind closed doors to try and agree on a new plan for managing fisheries in the Baltic Sea.

You’ve probably already seen a couple of other blogs about it – I recommend Pew’s recap of what has happened so far. ClientEarth has also done a great job explaining the Maximum Sustainable Yield concept (the largest average catch that can be captured from a fish stock under existing environmental conditions) – and how the negotiations for the Baltic can set a precedent for incorrectly implementing management measures to end overfishing, creating a “wild child”.

So what is really at stake if we don’t manage fisheries correctly through these plans?

  1. Fish stocks will not recover. This is perhaps the most obvious conclusion, yet it seems to be so easily forgotten. In the Baltic, for example, cod stocks are and have been for a while in a dire situation, especially the eastern cod stock. Yet, quotas are still being set against scientific advice.
    A curious case: Recently, the European Commission claiming in their 2016 Total Allowable Catches proposal for the Baltic, to setting the eastern cod catches at 41.143 tonnes, stating that this is in line with ICES advice, while ICES advises that catches should be no more than 29.220 tonnes.
    Management plans are meant to fix this illogical thinking of not following scientific advice (at least that is the intention of the European Parliament) to ensure that only the amount of fish that is scientifically advised and approved will actually be removed from the sea.
  2. Seabirds, dolphins, and sea turtles will continue to drown incidentally. No fisher wants to catch something they didn’t intend to. No fisher wants to set an imbalance in their ecosystem that could further destroy their fishery. Yet, the European Commission has failed to foresee specific measures to address bycatch of non-target species in the Baltic plan and left it to the European Parliament to “fix” it. Fortunately, they have, and the European Council doesn’t entirely disagree – at least that’s progress?
  3. Real actions will not take place. After going through the effort of negotiating a plan, there is still a possibility that national governments won’t act on it. The way the European Council has decided to change the original proposal from the European Commission on the Baltic plan removes the possibility for the European Commission to present actions if national governments fail to do so.
    This means that there is no Plan B. If a national government refuses to put any fisheries action forward, nothing changes – and fishing will continue to be unsustainably. Will the European Commission stand up for itself?

All in all, fisheries management is much more than politicians sitting in a room and horse trading. It’s about the fish, the environment, and the ones trying to make a profit or living out of all this. These things don’t need to work at cross purposes (I highly recommend reading nef’s Blue New Deal).

We all agree that European oceans and seas are not doing so well. We also all agree that the Common Fisheries Policy was reformed to change this. What politicians can’t seem to agree on so far is whether we actually want to see healthy oceans in the future.

So these “Baltic negotiations” are about much more than the Baltic. It’s the first step to ensure we don’t continue with business as usual.

Bruna Campos, EU Marine and Fisheries Policy Officer, BirdLife Europe – bruna.campos@birdlife.org

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