Scientific Advisory Body Recommend More than Doubled Fishing Quotas in the Baltic

03 June, 2024

Fishing for herring and sprat in the central Baltic Sea can increase by 139 percent, according to ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which today published its recommendations to the EU for fishing in 2025.

Last year, the EU Commission wanted to stop all herring fishing following ICES’s recommendations. Now, researchers argue that the estimate of the herring population born in 2022 was underestimated last year. ICES also notes that the recruitment of herring/sprat has been better than expected.

Fishery scientist Henrik Svedäng from the Baltic Sea Centre at Stockholm University is strongly critical of ICES’s new recommendations:

– ICES bases its conclusion of an extreme increase of 139 percent on somewhat better recruitment, which often needs to be revised afterwards.

– This type of overly optimistic calculation has occurred before, for example with western cod, where it was later seen that the stock was not as large. That stock has now collapsed since the early 2000s.

– With a fool’s persistence, they repeat the same reasoning. In 2021, the quota in the Bothnian Sea for sprat was raised by about 80%, but that increase couldn’t be caught; on the contrary, catches declined that year. Judging by what ICES writes today, they have not taken into account that sprat stocks have significantly decreased in Swedish fishing. They seem to have ignored the study that we published last year from the Stockholm archipelago.

ICES bases its recommendations on sample fishing and its own models – but primarily on catch reports from large industrial fishing trawlers. ICES notes that misreporting is an ongoing problem that makes forecasts uncertain. ICES writes:

“Significant effort has been made to estimate misreporting, resulting in minor revisions – but the work is not finished and is still ongoing. Misreporting undermines data quality.”

Researchers have made calculation errors before.

In 2017, everything looked good in ICES’s calculations. The fishing quota was significantly raised. But when new data was received in 2021, the stock was estimated to be only half as large – and dangerously close to the collapse threshold.

Based on ICES’s advice, the EU Commission will give its recommendations on fishing in the Baltic Sea for 2025. The final decision will be made by the fisheries ministers of all EU countries at a meeting in October 2024.

The process has been criticized, not least by independent environmental organizations, for happening behind closed doors. Even the EU’s own ombudsman demands that the public should know how the ministers argue. Today, the discussions are secret – only the decisions are made public.

Henrik Svedäng:

– Soon a crisis commission will be needed to investigate what ICES, the EU Commission, and the Council of Ministers are concocting in an extremely clandestine manner without transparency or the ability to follow the process.

However, researchers within ICES were not unanimous in their decision. Representatives from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in ICES have commented on the advice – read it here. Mikaela Bergenius Nord (SLU Aqua) believes that the recommendations are too high.

Link to ICES’s advice for herring/sprat in the central Baltic Sea can be found here.

Text: Peter Löfgren

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