Polite mingling while the sea dies

08 March, 2024

The conflicts within Swedish fishing are very fierce. Small-scale coastal fishermen on the east and south coasts face a small number of giant trawlers from the West Coast. I was looking forward to tough discussions and fruitful exchanges at this year’s Fishing Forum. But met with pleasant company in a luxurious mingling environment.

Fiskeforum 2024 Photo: Ida Åkesson/Swedish Press Agency

When representatives of different fishing interests met, the importance of being able to talk to each other was emphasized as if it were an end in itself and as if it was about internal issues between the minor barons of the fishing industry, not about saving the ocean for future generations.

At Fiskeforum 2022, the tension was palpable, polite conversations were held during the coffe break between lectures. Even though the situation in Swedish waters is more serious than ever before. Responsible authorities, the Swedish Agency for Agriculture and the Swedish Sea and Water Authority, made promises about new “visions”. The Director General of the Swedish Agricultural Agency spoke about business plans and “supporting Swedish fishing”. As if the fish stock crisis disappears with marketing and government support.

Instead of challenging each other about the existential questions that the fishing debate should be about, they chose to agreed that more seals and cormorants must be killed. But in the fine Hazelius hall in Hasselbacken’s hotel, concepts such as shoot or kill are not used. Bureaucrats, politicians, and fishing functionaries instead talk about “the need for management”. The same expression is used for the killing of fish: “management of the resource”.

Our sportfishing-interested king was there. Carl XVI Gustaf stands above all the smiling stakeholders and stated:

– Many of us were amazed at how bad it is with several fish stocks in our beloved Baltic Sea.

The Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf speak at Fiskeforum 2024. Photo Ida Åkesson/Swedish Press Agency

The king had absorbed the facts, clearly conveyed by SLU researcher David Gilljam.

Gilljam described how the herring/flounder stocks have been steadily declining and are now at critical levels.

But these facts did not concern the giant trawlers’ CEO Anton Paulrud. He is an optimist, he claimed. And motivated more fishing with the fact that the world’s population is rapidly increasing and needs protein. It appears to be mysterious why Paulrud’s ship in that case delivers roughly 90 percent of the catch for animal feed, after vacuuming the Baltic Sea.

Paulrud also emphasized the importance of us being self-sufficient in fish. So why in God’s name is his fish being ground up in Denmark and eaten by salmon in Norway?

Today, Sweden imports 75 percent of the seafood we eat. NATO membership requires that we have a robust preparedness, said Teija Aho, from Sweden’s fishermen’s producer organization. Preparedness includes food supply. Aho was supported by many, including the politicians from the Parliament’s environment and agriculture committee. But, I ask myself, how can Swedish self-sufficiency improve when stocks are shrinking and catches must be reduced? For me, there is only one answer: stop the large-scale forage fishing, switch to small-scale fishing for food for people – or “human consumption” as internal lingo goes.

According to Anton Paulrud, his organization’s measurements show that the dioxin levels south of Stockholm are now below the limit value for what humans are considered to tolerate. Then – take the Baltic herring from the farmed Norwegian salmon! And let humans, seals and wild predatory fish eat their fill.

Anton Paulrud CEO at the Swedish Pelagic Federation. Photo: Ida Åkesson/Swedish Press Agency

Of the politicians, the center party’s Anders Karlsson, a former part-time farmer from Sävsjö, stood out. He was the only one who wholeheartedly stood up for continued large-scale industrial fishing. Karlsson believes that it is unreasonable to stop fishing, because then it will be impossible to run fishing companies. And he is right about that…but what happens to the companies when the fish run out? The center party also came up with the radical proposal to produce biogas from killed seals. (“They should be used for something”). And introduce a bounty on seals and cormorants.

Other parliamentary parties wanted to invest in small-scale fishing, without analyzing in more detail how it is affected by large-scale fishing: Then you would have risked a bad atmosphere in the fine halls.

I can finally go outside in the sunshine – spring is on its way! Soon my Bleking grass herring will come in to play at Tjurköbron as usual. I hope.

Chronicler: Peter Löfgren
Photo: Ida Åkesson/SPA

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