On Monday, Council may endorse overfishing in the Baltic Sea

Member states are willing to endorse overfishing in the Baltic Sea in violation of the rules of the new Common Fisheries Policy, according to a draft decision ahead of a meeting on Monday.

On Monday 20 April, fisheries ministers will seek to agree on a Council position on the new multiannual fisheries management plan for the Baltic Sea.

In a draft decision, seen by CFP Reform Watch, it is proposed that fish quotas would be allowed to exceed ’maximum sustainable yield’ levels (MSY). This would contradict the goals of new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Parliament wants to stay below MSY catches
The European Parliament, meanwhile, wants catches to stay below MSY. The Parliament’s fisheries committee voted on the Baltic plan 31 March. The members of the fisheries committee approved to set the target for catches at slightly below the MSY catch.

The Baltic Sea management plan concerns cod, sprat and herring. It is the first in a series of long-term management plans that will be adopted under the EU’s new fishing rules, and it is understood that it will set a precedence for future plans.

“Worrisome: commission contradicts the reform”
The Parliament will have to battle both the Council and the Commission. In fact, it was the Commission that first came up with the proposal to allow for quotas that exceed MSY. The Commission asked the scientists at ICES to provide values both above and below MSY, and these values were subsequently integrated into the Commission’s proposal.

“It is surprising that the Commission fails its role to defend EU legislation and proposes something that is contradicting the new fisheries legislation that has been celebrated as a big success. After decades of a failed fisheries policy, the EU agreed in 2013 on a reform that would end overfishing. Only a year after the reform, there are proposals that contradict the reform. I find that very worrisome”, said Markus Knigge, a senior advisor to Pew Charitable Trusts, an environmental organisation.

Compare the proposals
This table compares the MSY value to the preliminary positions of the Commission, Council and Parliament, respectively. The Council is scheduled to confirm its position 20 April. The European Parliament is scheduled to confirm its position in a plenary vote 28 April.

Note that the management plan will set a range of allowed catches. MEPs set “no fishing” as the lower limit for quotas. Council and Commission, however, propose that quota flexibility is restricted within a narrow range above and below MSY.

  Target fishing mortality range
Stock F-MSY (ICES) Commission proposal Council draft EP fisheries committee
Western Baltic cod 0.26 0.23–0.29


0.15–0.45 0 to 0.26 (target 0.208)
Eastern Baltic cod Not defined 0.41–0.51


Not defined not defined
Central Baltic herring 0.22 0.23–0.29 0.16–0.28 0 to 0.22 (target 0.176)
Gulf of Riga herring 0.32 0.32–0.39 0.24–0.38 0 to 0.32 (target 0.256)
Bothnian Sea herring 0.12 0.13–0.17 0.09–0.13 0 to 0.12 (target 0.096)
Bothnian Bay herring Not defined Not defined Not defined not defined
Western Baltic herring 0.32 0.25–0.31 0.23–0.41 0 to 0.32 (target 0.256)
Baltic sprat 0.26 0.26–0.32 0.19–0.27 0 to 0.26 (target 0.208)

Comment: Fishing mortality is the portion of fish that can be caught as quotas. It’s the amount of fish that is killed by fishing, as opposed to natural death. Fishing mortality is denoted by F, and F-MSY represents catches at the maximum sustainable yield. A higher F value means higher catches.

Lower catch rates – more fish
Article 2 of the CFP says that the size of fish stocks should be restored to sustainable and abundant levels, more precisely ”above levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield”. In order to allow fish stocks to grow to these levels, catches must be smaller than the maximum sustainable yield.

It is worth noting that following an MSY approach means that, as fish stocks grow, catches will correspond to more and more tonnes of fish. The advice from the scientific organisation ICES clearly states that there are advantages of fishing less than MSY, including lower fishing effort, better stability of fish stock growth and larger fish in the stock and the catch.

Sources for the table above:
* Commission.
* Council: Working paper 9 April 2015. (Excerpt)
* EP fisheries committee report. Amendment 30 expresses the range as ”0 to FMSY”. In the table above we have inserted the FMSY values from ICES.

Axel Naver

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