Tuesday, the European Commission proposed catch quotas for herring in the Baltic Sea for 2024, which includes a near-total ban on fishing Bothnian herring in Finland. The precise quotas for Estonian fisheries will be determined in October.
Every year, the European Commission proposes catch limits for most fish species, based on scientific advice from an intergovernmental marine science organization and following the Baltic multiannual management plan. These are national quotas that determine how many fish each EU country is allowed to catch in a given year; these quotas can be exchanged among EU counties.
Today, the commission has adopted its proposal for the 2024 fishing opportunities, or total allowable catches (TACs) and quotas, for three out of the 10 stocks in the Baltic Sea.
Scientists estimated that the size of the central Baltic herring stock (herring in Estonian seas) has been around or below minimum levels since the early 1990s. The Bothnian herring population has dropped below healthy levels as well, probably because of low reproduction levels in recent years and because older herring have become smaller, the commission reported.
In this light, the commission proposed to close the targeted fisheries for both stocks, while precise allowances for herring as by-catch will be decided in fall based on additional information.
"The international scientific community believes that the situation is quite serious. The herring stock is close to, or in some places below the minimal level and there has been a significant decrease in fish numbers in Finnish and Swedish seas. That is why the commission suggested closing the targeted fisheries in Finnish and Swedish seas in 2024, as this is the only way to ensure that the stock recovers in the next years and we can fish there again," Vivian Loonela, the head of the European Commission Representation in Estonia, explained.
Although the commission proposed that by-catch of Bothnian herring could be permitted under quotas, this is essentially a ban, as herring in the Gulf of Bothnia is caught as a target species, not as a by-catch.
Mart Undrest, the head of the Estonian Fishermen's Association, said that a number of Estonian companies are also fishing Bothnian herring. "As fishing companies are also owned by Estonians, we are monitoring for these developments both the southern and northern shores of the Gulf of Finland, to see what happens next. Over the next month, hopefully, all of this information will become clearer," he said.
Estonian Riga herring (Gulf of Riga) is not exempt from restrictions and is subject to quotas as well. The commission has proposed a 20 percent reduction in herring fishing in the Gulf of Riga. The precise figures of these quotas will become clearer in October, as the commission has requested additional information from the intergovernmental marine science organization (ICES) to take better account of the fact that herring is typically caught together with sprat.
Why does the commission propose to decrease the Riga herring fishing by 20 percent?
Some central Baltic herring migrate into the Gulf of Riga. In the past this amount of fish has been added to the Riga herring quotas. This year the commission proposes not to add this stock as it would be inconsistent with its proposal to close the targeted central Baltic herring fisheries elsewhere. The resulting catch advice for Riga herring is then -23 percent.
What is the current situation of the Baltic Sea?
The Baltic Sea is fragile due to its shallowness, limited connection with the ocean and slow water circulation. Cod, herring and salmon populations are under pressure due to habitat loss caused by environmental degradation in both inland waters and the sea.
The European Commission is organizing the second edition of the Our Baltic Conference in Palanga, Lithuania, on September 29. The high-level event brings together ministers from the eight EU countries surrounding the Baltic Sea (Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland and Sweden).
The Council will examine the Commission's proposal in view of adopting it during a Ministerial meeting on October 23-24.
Editor: Kristina Kersa