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One sea, too many problems – the Baltic Sea

The Baltic Sea. photo:

Do we will have fish for the future? The Baltic Sea has faced an overfishing problem, a lot of fish stocks are in danger. The countries around the Baltic Sea and European Union have to act now to solve the problem.

By Laura Zaharova

It is no secret that the Baltic Sea has been utilized for many years, that is one of the reason why in this sea there are a lot of environmental problems. The most important are eutrophication and overfishing. Every type of fish that people have on a menu is more or less in danger.

In the Baltic Sea there is overfishing of the cod that makes algae blooming and you can see that the sea is not looking well. Overfishing has seen eco systems being destabilized and the sea is too much used by agriculture. It is very heavily affected; there are issues concerning: unification, overfishing, invasion of alien species, the plants of north stream, the gas, and pipeline. There is a problem with oxygen in sprats and herrings, and a lot of organic toxins in fish.  The Baltic Sea is heavily utilized, thus it is far from being healthy.

Fish for the Future

European Parliament, Strasbourg,France.

Now the European Parliament is discussing the discard ban, because that would be a good step forward to stop overfishing in EU waters. According to figures from the European Commission, “the outlook in Europe is even bleaker with 72% of stocks overfished and 59% of stocks for which the state is known at high risk of depletion.“

One European average in one year consumes 21 kg of fish products. In European Union member

Plenary Session in Strasbourg, March 7th, 2011

countries this index differs from 4 kg per person in Rumania to 57 kg in Portuguese. The world average amount of fish product consumption is 17 kg, but in the USA, China and Canada it is 25 kg per year.

Fishing is the main threat to Baltic fish stocks. Damaging fishing practices, high levels of by-catch and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing all lead to degradation of the ecosystem. This has pushed the wild Baltic salmon and the Baltic cod populations to critically low numbers.

The scientist and Professor of Department of Systems Ecology at the Stockholm University, Sture Hannson said that “the main problems with fish stocks in the Baltic Sea are that there are too small stock of herring, caused by intensive fisheries and food competition with sprat.  At the moment there is a good stock of sprat, but it is fished too hard and combining this with the increased predation pressure from cod, we can expect a serious decline in the future, provided that the catch quotas are not reduced drastically. Eel is a catastrophe.”

Ole Christensen

The substitute of the Fishery Committee, and MEP of Denmark Ole Christensen says that “there is a problem about the cod, we have a recovery plan for the cod and therefore countries have smaller quotas each year for the fisherman, where they can catch cod.  So that’s the biggest problem in the Baltic Sea.”

Even if there is overfishing, Sweden and Denmark are only fishing sprat for industrial purpose, to do fish meal to feed chicken, pigs, salmon and minks, while Poland and the Baltic States eat sprat for human consumptions. Access to fish should be prioritized for fishing for human consumption, not for animal feed.

Are quotas too high?

Every year the Agriculture and Fisheries Council reach a political agreement on a regulation which establishes fishing quotas for the Baltic Sea for the EU vessels. If you compare 2011 with last year’s numbers, this legal act provides a decrease in fishing opportunities, total allowable catches (TACs) and quotas. These quotas are shared between eight Baltic countries.

2011 Proposed TACs for the Baltic Sea

Opinions about level of quotas for fishing in the Baltic Sea are differing a lot. Scientists think that quotas have to be lower; Sture Hannson considers that “for cod it is good right now, sprat need to be very much decreased, herring also needs to be decreased. All eel fishing should be totally banned.” But fishermen have another opinion, for example Inārijs Voits, Head of the Latvian Fisheries Association about quotas for Latvia for the year 2011 declared that “if quotas next year will be lower for 30% then three of ten ships will be unnecessary. From that not only fisherman will suffer, but also the manufacturing industry.”

Tatjana Ždanoka

The Latvian member of European Parliament and member of Green Party, Tatjana Ždanoka says, “There is an overfishing problem in the Baltic Sea and illegal fishing could also be a problem. That’s why I think quotas are too high.”

EU needs to find a balance between fisherman and environment and fish stock conservancy, because human needs to save fish for the future, to give the possibility for people to eat them in the future. Sustainability for fish stocks is a very important issue now.

Problems with Fleets

A few years ago EU Commission estimated that Poland illegally overfished almost 50% over their quota, Sweden by 23%, and Denmark by 11%. Illegal fishing has diminished now according to all sources.

Māris Bērziņš fisheries counselor, Latvian Permanent Representation to the EU says,: “The problem is that fleet are much larger than needed to catch the fish resources that are available.”

Ole Christensen also thinks that EU has too many vessels to the amount of fish stocks in the water. EP needs the fishery more sustainable to protect different fish stocks, especially, which are dying. He admits, “EU tries to make plans for illegal, unregulated fishery in the Europe.”

To save the Baltic Sea

Not only the EU is trying to save the Baltic Sea, WWF has “The Baltic Ecoregion Program”, which is working to reform Baltic Sea fisheries towards sustainability and long term viability. There is also Baltic Sea 2020, a private, independent foundation aimed to stimulating concrete measures which improve the environmental quality of the Baltic Sea.

Of course, the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the European Union’s way of organizing how EU fishing activities should take place – who can fish where, how, when. Which now is reformed and in spring Commission is coming out with legislative proposals for basic regulation all rules about fisheries, one for aqua culture, one for external fisheries policy, one for substitutes.  In European Parliament there is a new group formed: “Fish for the Future” to try to save fish stocks more effectively.

The Baltic Sea strategy since 2009, is not only about actual water, but also about countries around the Baltic Sea. That is not about money, it is just a strategy to coordinate efforts. There is also Baltic Sea Regional Advisory Council (BS RAC), which has the main aim to prepare and provide advice on the management of Baltic Sea fisheries in order to achieve a successful running of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

The HELCOM has the Baltic Sea Action Plan is also an ambitious programme to restore the good ecological status of the Baltic marine environment by 2021.

MEP Isabella Lövin, in the centre, and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki, on the right. Photo: European Commission Audiovisual

According to Isabella Lövin, a MEP of the Fisheries Committee and the Green Party “there are very many plans to try to save the Baltic Sea. I think the countries around the Baltic Sea have to take a lead and do something. I don’t think that EU can do it, EU maybe can provide some extra resources, but I think there are rich countries around the Baltic Sea and they could try doing something all together.”



The fact box:

The Baltic Sea is the youngest sea on our planet, emerging from the retiring ice masses only some 10,000-15,000 years ago.

The Baltic Sea is one of the world’s most threatened marine environments.

It is also the world’s largest body of brackish water (it has more salinity than freshwater but not as much as seawater), connected to the ocean waters of the North Sea only through the narrow and shallow straits between Denmark and Sweden.

9 countries surround the Baltic Sea: Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Russia and Lithuania.

The sea is about 1,60km (1,000 miles) long; an average of 193km (120 miles) wide; and an average of 55m (180 feet) deep.

The surface area is about 377,000km2 (145,522 sq mi) and the volume is about 20,000km3 (5040 cubic mi).

The periphery amounts to about 8,000km (4,968 miles) of coastline.

Fishes in the Baltic Sea: Wild salmon; Cod; Herring; Horn fish; Sprat; Asp; Eel; Perch

15% of the world’s maritime transport takes place on the Baltic Sea.

Fish are an important part of the ecosystem

Cod is the most valuable fish in the Baltic Sea and a majority of the commercial fishermen in the region depend on abundant stocks

Cod is the main predator in the Baltic Sea as it is at the top of the food chain

The Helsinki Commission, or HELCOM, works to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution through intergovernmental co-operation between Denmark, Estonia, the European Community, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden.