Fisheries: EU reaches provisional agreement on reducing fishing fleet in the Baltic with support from EU funds
The agreement concerns specifically vessel owners in affected Member States wishing to permanently decommission their vessels that used to target eastern cod or that are active in the western cod and herring fishery.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said: “It is important that yesterday we could reach an agreement that offers relief to our fishermen and -women who are coping with the dual challenge of the steep reduction of fishing opportunities in the Baltic and the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis. Our actions today have a double function: fostering a healthier, more sustainable Baltic of tomorrow by ensuring the survival of fish stocks, while at the same time supporting the livelihoods of those whom the fish stock crisis in the Baltic Sea has hit the most.”
The difficult situation of the two Baltic cod fisheries and the western Baltic herring fishery has resulted in substantial reductions of fishing opportunities and the full closure of targeted eastern Baltic cod fishery since July 2019 and the Commission has proposed further reductions of fishing opportunities for 2021.
While these decisions were necessary to give the fisheries a chance to recover, they could also potentially result in severe and unavoidable economic hardship for the fishing communities and fleets traditionally targeting those stocks. At the Council meeting of 14-15 October 2019, the Commission and fisheries ministers and agreed to help the fishermen and -women most affected by this economically difficult situation. In October 2019, the Commission swiftly adopted a proposal to modify the relevant legislation. The agreement reached yesterday will address the potentially severe economic impact of these necessary measures. It comes only a few days before the Our Baltic conference, which will tackle the environmental factors affecting the Baltic Sea, such as biodiversity loss and climate change, eutrophication, overfishing and pollution. The European Parliament and the Council both need to confirm this agreement in the coming weeks.
The Baltic Sea ecosystem has been in a fragile state for decades. The Baltic cod stocks have been in a difficult state for a number of years already. More recently, the western Baltic herring stock has deteriorated. After warning, only in 2019, that the impact of environmental conditions is much more important on that stock than previously estimated, scientists are now unsure when the stock might recover, even with no fishing at all. The eastern Baltic cod stock is not expected to recover before 2024, even with the total closure of fisheries.
Following scientific advice, fishing possibilities for western Baltic cod and western Baltic herring have been substantially reduced in recent years. For eastern Baltic cod, the Commission adopted first emergency measures in July 2019, prohibiting the fishing of eastern Baltic cod until the end of the year. In October 2019, the Council decided on necessary and unprecedented fishing restrictions for 2020. The measures included reducing the allowed catches for eastern Baltic cod by 92%, to be taken as bycatches only; the allowed catches for western Baltic cod were reduced by 60% and for western Baltic herring by 65%. In the same Council meeting, the Baltic countries had already endorsed the need to step up the implementation of environmental policies aimed at the recovery of the Baltic Sea ecosystem.
Because of the strong reductions agreed, the vessels and fleet segments most heavily impacted by the reductions and closure are not all able to redirect their fishing activities to other fisheries. The member states and the Commission, therefore, concluded that contingency measures were necessary, as well as additional measures to address the specific situation of the Baltic Sea.
Permanent cessation measures were allowed under the EMFF until 31 December 2017. Today’s agreement reintroduces this measure, under certain conditions, until the end of the current EMFF period 2014-2020 for the fleets fishing, or which used to fish, for eastern and western Baltic cod and western Baltic herring. Member states must ensure that capacity withdrawn from the fleet with EMFF support lowers the pressure on those stocks and helps them recover over time. The proposal does not increase EMFF funding per member state nor the EU’s overall budgetary contribution.