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News|29 May, 2009

Careful management can bring Baltic Sea cod back

Atlantic cod, Saltstraumen, Norway
Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) Saltstraumen, Bodo, Norway, October 2008

WWF is cautiously optimistic regarding today’s indication from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) scientific advice that cod is increasing in the Baltic Sea. WWF has worked for many years to stop over-fishing in the Baltic Sea and therefore finds it encouraging that the eastern cod stock now appears to be increasing with yet another good year class of 2006, although there are presently no guarantees this positive development will continue. The western stock is showing less improvement as only one good year class, 2008, has been observed over the last five years.

“We are happy to see that the trends are moving in the right direction”, says Ottilia Thoreson, Fisheries Policy Officer, WWF Sweden. “But, in order to retain this positive trend, it’s important that decision makers listen carefully to what the scientists are actually saying”.

For 2010 ICES recommends that decision makers follow the management plans for both cod stocks and include a 15 percent increase in quotas for the eastern Baltic Sea cod stock and, for the first time in many years, also recommends a small increase of the quota for the western stock. However, the scientists stress the uncertainties of their own calculations and admit that they are based on the assumption that there is minimal by-catch and that illegal fishing has decreased to a fraction of what it used to be.

“This year’s evaluation is extremely uncertain when it comes to illegal fishing and the amount of undersized cod being caught”, says says Ottilia Thoreson. “If we want to have a sustainable fishery, we must ensure that cod stocks are given the chance to grow to a stable level without juvenile cod getting fished out.

According to WWF, in order to continue this positive trend, several technical measures need to be adopted. For trawling, the development of more selective fishing gear that effectively avoids large catches of young cod is needed. In trawl fisheries for cod in the Baltic Sea, an estimated 28 percent of the catch is thrown over-board, including mostly young cod and flatfish. The amount of discarded fish is dependent on the size of each year class, which means that when larger year classes are born and developing, there will be a larger by-catch of young cod which are just under the commercial landing size.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has been a huge problem in the Baltic Sea. It is next to impossible for scientists themselves to assess the size of IUU fishing. Instead they have been left to trust estimates from national authorities. From an earlier official estimate of 32 to 45 percent, the IUU figure used as the basis for next years quotas is just 6 percent. ”An underestimation of IUU fishing in the Baltic Sea could mean that the actual catch will be far above what is set in the official TACs, putting further pressure on the stock. The ICES advice must therefore be taken with this strong possibility in mind”, says Pauli Merriman, Director, Baltic Ecoregion Programme.

For more information please contact:

Ottilia Thoreson, Fisheries Policy Officer, WWF Sweden
Tel: +46 732 745 867

Pauli Merriman, Director, WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme
Tel. +46 767 886 185

Note to editors:

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) ICES is a network of more than 1600 scientists from 200 institutes linked by an intergovernmental agreement (the ICES Convention) to add value to national research efforts. ICES coordinates and promotes marine research on oceanography, the marine environment, the marine ecosystem, and on living marine resources in the North Atlantic. Members of the ICES community include all coastal states bordering the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea, with affiliate members in the Mediterranean Sea and southern hemisphere. Each year ICES, through its Advisory Committee, offers advice on quotas of Baltic Sea and North Sea commercial fish species to the European Council of Ministers. Traditionally, ministers have often chosen not to follow scientific advice, but instead provide substantially larger quotas.

WWF has recently launched a new version of its consumer’s Fish Guide in the region. The guide gives cod from the eastern stock a yellow light, implying that care should be taken. The western stock is still given a red light.

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