‘Baltic Plan’ gives hope to seabirds but fails to end overfishing

Baltic sea fishing. Photo: Flickr/Maciej Lewandowski
The just-agreed on Baltic Plan includes badly needed measures to stop the incidental bycatch of seabirds but fails to end overfishing. Photo: Flickr/Maciej Lewandowski

The good news: On 15 March, the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission finalised the negotiations on the multiannual plan for the management of the Baltic Sea cod, sprat and herring stocks – the so-called “Baltic Plan”. It is the first plan under the European Commission’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) which aims to ensure that fishing are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.

The European Parliament managed to include measures to minimise the impacts of fishing on the marine environment, including reducing the accidental catching of seabirds, dolphins, and sea turtles, in the final agreement. These specific and important measures had not been included in the original proposal by the European Commission. The Baltic Sea is a well-known hotspot for bycatch of seabirds with about 76.000 seabirds (mainly marine diving ducks) drowning in fishing nets every year.

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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?

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Failure to act on ambition

Fishing boats in Ireland. Photo: WIlliam Murphy/Flickr

As experienced and successful politicians, ministers are adept at obfuscation; the Teflon characteristics that Bertie Ahern was celebrated for. So how to respond to a minister responsible for fisheries when he asserts that, “the state of fish stocks generally is improving”, as if he is an innocent observer, while ministers continue to set fishing limits above scientific advice, 38 out of 62 assessed stocks are outside safe biological limits, and it is not known how many stocks have actually been restored to healthy levels? For the duration of the present government this minister has held responsibility for fisheries, yet in this time the rate of EU overfishing has even increased. So does “generally improving” resonate as a reasonable response?

He goes onto reiterate “his commitment that all fish stocks should reach the target of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2020”. But this is not what the legislation, which he was pivotal in negotiating as chair of the EU Presidency in the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2013, states. The law is unequivocal on this:

“In order to reach the objective of progressively restoring and maintaining populations of fish stocks above biomass levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield, the maximum sustainable yield exploitation rate shall be achieved by 2015 where possible and, on a progressive, incremental basis at the latest by 2020 for all stocks.”

“…at the latest by 2020 …”, there is no “should” in there, and there is clear reference to ‘above biomass levels’.

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Will EU Fisheries Ministers make the right move for the Baltic?

In the upcoming EU AgriFish Council meeting on the 20th of April, Fisheries Ministers will discuss the Commission’s proposal for the Baltic multi-annual plan (MAP) [2014/0285 (COD)], and in particular the Presidency proposal for a compromise. NGOs are now urgently urging Member States to adhere to the binding objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and especially to be mindful of the Fisheries Committee vote of 31st March.

So what should Fisheries Ministers carefully address?

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