Fisheries in the Baltic region: modern reforms and initiatives

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EU states and fisheries sector are contributing to the recovery of fish stocks in the sea basins. Still more efforts are needed to fully implement the common fishery policy, CFP which contributes to a healthier marine environment and maintains the sectors’ profitability in the coming decades. Along with other priorities, it is crucial to support the revitalization of coastal communities and improve their economic prospects with modern innovative technologies.

Modern challenges in the fishing sector
The fishing opportunities are part of the EU-27 approach in adjusting the fishing long-term sustainability targets (called maximum sustainable yield, MSY). The Baltic Sea is the most polluted sea in Europe; it is affected by biodiversity loss, climate change, eutrophication, overfishing, and elevated levels of contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and litter.
With the marine action plan, the Commission aims to reinforce the CFP’s contribution to the EU’s environmental objectives. A healthy marine environment with healthy fish stocks and rich biodiversity is the only way to ensure a prosperous future for EU fisheries communities in the medium and long-term.
The objective of the modern EU-wide energy transition initiative is to have a climate neutral fisheries and aquaculture sector by 2050. The Commission is proposing measures to support the sector in accelerating its energy transition, by improving fuel efficiency and switching to renewable, low-carbon power sources.
One of the key actions of this plan is the creation of an “energy transition partnerships” for the EU-wide fisheries and aquaculture. It will bring together all stakeholders, including in fisheries, aquaculture, shipbuilding, ports, energy, NGOs, national and regional authorities, to collectively address the sectors’ challenges in transition.

Baltic fisheries’ issues
In November 2023, the Council of the European Union reached an agreement on the fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2024, following the Commission proposal regarding the total allowable catch (TACs) for three stocks: plaice (rollover), salmon in the Gulf of Finland (+7%) and main basin salmon (-15%). Taking stock of the specific environmental situation of the Baltic, the Council has decided to set by-catch allowances for the stocks of western herring, western cod and eastern cod, which means they can only be taken when accidentally caught while fishing for other stocks. Moreover, the existing remedial measures are kept. Today’s agreement thus allows healthy fisheries of plaice, Riga herring, salmon in the Gulf of Finland and sprat to continue.
The Council also decided to allow targeted fisheries on central Baltic herring and Bothnian herring, with TACs of 40,368t and 55,000t respectively. For central herring a 30-day closure is introduced to protect aggregation of spawners.
Concerned about this situation, the European Commission organised the second Baltic Conference in Lithuania in September 2023, which was attended by ministers and high-level officials in charge of fisheries, agriculture, and environment from eight EU Baltic countries: Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland and Sweden. Given the severe ecosystem problems of the Baltic Sea, leaders agreed to strengthen and complement states’ in improving the Baltic Sea’s ecosystem and the state of fish stocks.
Some of the solutions include for example introduction of mussel-farming to re-oxygen the water; mollusks are filter feeders, improving water quality and clarity, they remove nitrogen from the water. Mollusks’ beds provide critical ecosystem functions by creating structure and habitats for other species such as crabs, worms and juvenile fish, that provide a food source for fish and other marine species. Another solution lies in tapping the cultivation of seaweed and mollusks, which can provide climate-mitigation services such as carbon sequestration or climate-adaptation services such as nature-based coastal protection, preserving ecosystems such as ponds or wetlands.
EU funds can be used to support the fishery sector in the Baltic sea, if the member state launch temporary cessation scheme under the EU Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF).

Common fisheries policy, CFP
Originally part of the common agricultural policy (CAP), the common fisheries policy (CFP) started with the objectives common to both sectors: increasing productivity, stabilizing the markets, providing healthy food and ensuring reasonable prices for consumers.
The CFP’s history dates back to 1970 when CFP obtained specific legislation and structural policy for fisheries, in particular through the common market organisation. As more and more countries joined what is now the EU, some with important fisheries resources and fleets, it was also necessary to deal with specific fisheries problems such as the conservation of resources and international relations after the introduction of the exclusive economic zones (EEZ).
The current CFP became from January 2014; it focused on the management of fisheries (earlier CFP regulations focused only on stock conservation), on achieving maximum sustainable yield, MSY by 2015 (where possible, and at the latest by 2020), and on having healthy fish stocks. This reform provided CFP with a comprehensive legal framework, featuring attention to the environmental, economic and social dimensions of fisheries; fish stock management at maximum sustainable yield for all managed stocks; gradual introduction of a landing obligation; continued application of the so-called multiannual plans (MAPs) to manage fisheries in different sea basins; regionalisation to allow EU countries with a management interest to propose detailed measures, which the Commission can then adopt as delegated or implementing act and transpose them into EU law; fleet capacity ceilings per EU country in combination with the obligation for EU countries to ensure a stable and enduring balance between fishing capacity and fishing opportunities over time. The EU countries started to develop action plans to reduce overcapacity.
However, based on scientific advice, fishing must be adjusted to bring exploitation to the levels that maximize yields within the boundaries of sustainability.
In mid-2018, the Commission proposed a legislative revision to modernise, strengthen and simplify the EU fisheries control system, ensure sustainability and increase the level playing field in fisheries control. This revision was in line with the EU’s REFIT program aimed to ensure that regulatory burdens were minimized and simplification options identified and applied.
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Jointly managing fishing stocks
Total allowable catches, TACs are set for most of Europe’s commercial fish stocks in order to keep their status healthy or to help them regenerate, while ensuring that EU fishers have healthy fish stocks to rely on for their economic activities. Under the common fisheries policy, the EU states are legally bound to manage fish stocks at sustainable levels.
Sustainable fishing has made substantial progress in the EU. In 2022, 80% of the TACs were set at MSY level, allowing for a healthy future of the stocks and for fishers to rely on them, compared to only 14% of TACs in 2009. The Commission proposal is based on scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). For stocks with a full scientific assessment, the Commission is proposing fishing levels in line with MSY advice. For stocks for which less data is available, the Commission proposal is based on precautionary advice. Taking into account the application of the landing obligation, the Commission is proposing TACs on the basis of the ICES catch advice. The proposed EU quotas take account of discards based on established exemptions; these quantities will not be landed and counted against the quotas and are therefore deducted from the EU quotas. Pending the entry into force of the delegated regulations specifying details of the implementation of the landing obligation for certain fisheries in 2024, EU quotas are marked pm in this proposal. Moreover, for stocks for which ICES provides only landings advice, the Commission is proposing TACs on the basis of that advice.
Total allowable catches were agreed for 18 fish stocks in the EU waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Kattegat and Skagerrak for 2024 based on scientific advice and covers fish stocks managed solely by the EU in those sea basins. For the first time, the Commission is proposing to set nine TACs for two to three years, known as ‘multiannual TACs’, instead of re-evaluating them annually, based on advice from the scientists of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Following ICES advice again, the Commission is proposing to set 12 TACs at MSY (Maximum Sustainable Yield), i.e., the maximum amount of fish that fishers can take out of the sea without compromising the regeneration and future productivity of the stock. This would mean an increase in catch limits for five stocks: megrims, anglerfish, hake, horse mackerel in Iberian waters and plaice in Kattegat.
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Northern agreements
Fishing activities in the North Sea and North-East Atlantic are vital to all neighbour states – the UK, Norway, Faroe Islands, Iceland -and the EU countries. All five parties closely coordinate the targeted stocks especially as the different fleets are not necessarily interested in the same stocks. Thus, many of the stocks concerned are jointly managed, and quotas are exchanged to ensure they are not wasted. Some of these stocks are managed through the intergovernmental North-East Atlantic Fisheries Convention (NEAFC) set up to manage fish stocks in the region, while others are managed through agreements between the coastal states. The EU has bilateral agreements with the United Kingdom, Norway, Faroe Islands and Iceland.
Nine TACs have been proposed for two or three years ahead, instead of on a yearly basis, with a reduction to ensure sustainable catches in the long term. The stocks concerned are those of plaice (West of Ireland), whiting and pollack (Bay of Biscay), plaice (Iberian Waters), Norway lobster (Bay of Biscay – FU25), sole (Irish waters), and sole (Iberian waters).

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