The Baltic Sea is in a very poor state, and the impacts of bottom trawling are inhibiting its recovery. In a new report released today, WWF summarizes these impacts and calls upon the European Commission and governments around the Baltic Sea to take positive action to allow fish stocks to recover and improve overall biodiversity through ecosystem-based fisheries management. A move that’s vital if the region is to even have sustainable fisheries in the future.
The Baltic cod is one of the main fish species targeted with bottom trawling gear. In the mid 1980s, nearly 450,000 tonnes of Baltic cod were caught annually. In 2019, the annual catch was below 20,000 tonnes. Bottom trawling has been so intense and pervasive for so long that few areas within the distribution range of cod remain unaffected.
In the report, WWF investigates the likely impacts of bottom trawling in the Southern Baltic Sea, where the fishing gear is being deployed at the highest intensity. Bottom trawling has direct effects on the biodiversity of the sea by serially depleting the resource base, causing long-term physical damage to the seafloor, and altering the characteristic ecosystem balance and food web. The report also highlights the finding that bottom trawling can enhance the effects of eutrophication and compound the impacts of climate change.
Despite a plethora of environmental legislation and policy, which is supposed to safeguard biodiversity in the sea, governments around the Baltic have done little to implement and enforce laws against unsustainable fishing practices like bottom trawling.
The report reveals that bottom trawling is even being actively practised within the boundaries of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). There are numerous examples of research showing how MPAs yield more fish, better habitats and increased biodiversity over time. During a period when biodiversity is in rapid decline, ecologically important areas must be safeguarded and fully protected. In order for MPAs to be effective, they must specifically ban bottom trawling where the practice interrupts the fulfilment of conservation objectives related to seafloor habitats and overall biodiversity.
“MPAs should function as a coherent network of effectively managed areas to protect, safeguard and help restore marine life which, similar to all the world’s oceans, is shrinking in the Baltic at a fast rate,” says Ottilia Thoreson, Director of the WWF Baltic Programme. “Our analysis shows that bottom trawling is still taking place within MPAs and important habitats for key fish stocks, like spawning areas—meaning we’re not even protecting the areas that are supposed to be protected.”
Although the picture looks bleak, studies show that the Baltic Sea could be restored substantially if trawling were to be reduced and managed sustainably by adopting a holistic ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. The current situation in the Baltic Sea – with reduced trawling activity, poor profitability and high future uncertainty – offers a chance to restructure the fleet.
“We now have a unique window of opportunity to revise the management in the region and set a precedent for the long-term benefit of the Baltic Sea and the people who depend on it,” says Ottilia Thoreson. “The way forward is clear: reduced bottom trawling efforts and smarter management of trawling areas would improve fisheries productivity, support coastal fishing communities, and bring many wider socioeconomic benefits to the Baltic countries.”
WWF’s report includes nine recommended actions that Baltic Sea governments must take to enable the recovery of marine ecosystems. One of these recommendations is a ban on bottom trawling within the boundaries of all national MPAs and the minimization of overall fishing efforts in key habitats. A regional bottom trawling ban is critical not only to the Baltic Sea’s recovery, but also to the future livelihood of the fishing industry.
Report: A sea under pressure: Bottom trawling impacts in the Baltic
The report examines the latest research on bottom trawling impacts in the Baltic Sea and provides a list of recommended actions policymakers need to take in order to bring back fish stocks and improve overall biodiversity through ecosystem-based fisheries management.
Interactive story map
The story map visually explores the history and impacts of bottom trawling in the Baltic region, and contains the key takeaways of the report. It also features interactive maps of bottom trawling intensity in the Baltic and a list of WWF’s recommendations for policymakers.
The fact sheet summarizes the topic of bottom trawling impacts in the Baltic, the key messages from the report, and includes a list of WWF’s recommendations for policymakers.
Hannah Griffiths Berggren
Communications Manager, WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme
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Director, WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme
email@example.com, +46-8-624 74 15