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Baltic Sea Fisheries Directors Drop the Ball on the Discard Ban

01 May 2014

EU - All eyes are on the Baltic Sea, the region that is first in line to adopt the EU’s new discard ban. But a new proposal opens up the possibility of selling cod currently treated as too small, instead of avoiding catching them in the first place, says Oceana.

This week, Baltic Sea fisheries directors adopted a proposal to decrease the size of cod allowed for human consumption, at the risk of opening up a market for undersized fish. Oceana is disappointed in this primary outcome of the Baltfish meeting in Riga, where directors gathered to discuss fisheries management and the discard ban, which will come into force 2015.

“It’s very disappointing that they have chosen to solve the problem of unwanted catch in this way, rather than by improving fishing gear selectivity and changing fishing behavior. The allowed sizes should be based on biology, with the aim of ensuring that each individual is able to spawn at least once before capture. This is a step in the wrong direction,” said Xavier Pastor, Oceana’s executive director in Europe.

The newly reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) requires that the discard ban and other control measures enter into force soon, but question marks remain for a number of details. The Baltic region is first in line to implement the discard ban in the EU, and is therefore paving the way for the rest of the EU. Oceana is concerned that any bad practices put in place in the Baltic region will set a dangerous precedent for other regions.

Small-sized cod are not the only ones that are important, large individuals are even more crucial for the wellbeing of the stock. Some years ago scientists sounded the alarm for Baltic Sea cod, particularly the eastern stock, which was on the brink of collapse. While it has since grown and seen a steady improvement, scientists are now reporting that the stock consists largely of small individuals, with very few larger fish. The abundance of large fish is crucial since they are able to produce more and larger eggs. Measures to improve the selectivity of fishing gear will therefore be particularly challenging in the coming years.

“The Baltic Sea faces a real challenge because selectivity measures must not only address the need to save small fish from being caught before they have been allowed to spawn, but must also ensure that large fish can escape from trawls. It is therefore crucial that the discard plan aids efforts to improve the fishing gear. We need innovative solutions,” added Hanna Paulomäki, Oceana’s Baltic Sea project manager.

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