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News|16 Oct, 2009

New catch of young cod threatens the Baltic stocks

Cod in bucket on deep-sea trawler, North Atlantic Ocea

European fisheries ministers are about to adopt new measures that may put the recovery of the Baltic Sea cod stocks at risk. The proposal now on the table will reduce the minimum legal size of caught cod from 38 to 35 centimetres. According to scientists, Baltic cod does not reach reproductive maturity until it is 42-50 centimetres.

The Baltic fisheries ministers came together this month to sign the Stockholm Declaration where one of the aims is to combat discards in the Baltic fisheries. WWF welcomes the Baltic Member States’ aim to stop the present dumping of cod, so called discards, of under-sized cod. However, later in a closed meeting, Denmark proposed to reduce the minimum landing size in cod trawl fisheries from 38 cm to 35 cm.

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES – a scientific body advising the EU) recently advised to increase the 2010 fishing quota for Baltic cod by 15 percent for the eastern stock and 9 percent for the western stock, based on the current minimum landing size of 38 cm. Introducing a new landing size for next year would inhibit a proper evaluation when the cod multi-annual plan is reviewed next year after its three years of implementation. The Danish proposal will likely also cause a larger amount of the cod stock to be caught before it has had a chance to reproduce.

“The EU fisheries ministers should, once and for all, solve the problem of discards in trawl fisheries for the cod to have a continued chance at recovery. To now start fiddling with landing sizes would be to betray the good work that has been done” says Ottilia Thoreson, Programme Manager, WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme.

According to WWF, the measures introduced so far, like fishing restrictions, recovery plans and technical restrictions will not be sufficient to meet the target of the current Baltic multi-annual cod plan as long as the problem of discards remains unaddressed and until the fleet capacity is adjusted to the fish resource. Only by introducing selective gears and strengthening control in EU fisheries, will the Baltic Member States’ stop this wasteful practice and guarantee a full recovery for Baltic cod stocks.

For more information, please contact:

Ottilia Thoreson, Programme Manager, WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme
Tel. +46 73 274 58 67

Editors note:

WWF wants to see an end to the wasteful practice of discarding and see fish stocks return to healthy levels, so fishing can become profitable and sustainable. Discards in the European fleet are essentially a symptom of a poor management system that has failed to address overcapacity, to impose the use of more selective fishing gears and to set limits based on real catches.

Discards: current setting of annual quotas does not include the amount of fish which are caught in nets and then thrown overboard. This happens when fishermen catch fish for which they don’t have a quota, or when they have already reached their quota. Sometimes they get rid off less valuable but healthy and marketable fish to provide storage for bigger specimens.

In order to deliver a discard reduction, Minimum Landing Size could be replaced with a Minimum Catch Size (MCS), which can be achieved with selective gear. WWF believes that, if enforced effectively, this will disincentive the capture of small fish and will avoid new markets opening up for undersized fish.

On the 1st of October, fisheries ministers from the countries around the Baltic Sea met and signed a declaration on how the countries together could solve the problems of fish stocks in the Baltic Sea. One of the aims of the declaration was to develop a roadmap in 2010 for the Baltic cod fishery to eradicate discards.

The Green paper on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy opens a consultation with all involved parties that will last until 31 December 2009. Following the consultation, the EU Commission will present a proposal for a reformed CFP policy that should be finally adopted in 2012 and enter into force in 2013.

WWF urges European governments and the Commission to craft a new policy for European fisheries, and in the meanwhile, act to implement effective control and enforcement to tackle illegal fishing and set sustainable quotas for all commercial fish stocks in the Baltic

WWF would like to see all fishing vessels adopt more selective gears from the outset and calls upon the European Union to adopt a new policy that will deliver the systematic reduction of current discard levels until its elimination.

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