There is no fishing without fish. Period.

10 January, 2024

The ocean’s resources belong to all citizens. We want healthy seas, full of fish and shellfish.

So – how could fishing for cod in the Baltic Sea be allowed to continue despite all the warning signs? How can herring fishing get the green light even though EU law prohibits continued fishing?

For a long time, I lived under the delusion that the European seas were managed democratically. That it is only in dictatorships that predatory behavior is deliberately allowed to destroy life below the surface and destroy the living space of all living things.

I thought that our elected leaders think long-term, weigh different interests – but prioritize future generations’ right to living oceans. After studying the Swedish and the EU’s fisheries policy, I am forced to state:

I was wrong.

The drive of the majority of our elected representatives is clear: to win the next election. Not to lead us into a better future. Short-termism is god. Fast cash wins opinions. Talk of saving the ocean and the planet in the long term is considered political suicide.

In Brussels, there are around 30,000 lobbyists whose job it is to influence political decisions on behalf of various interests. The fishing industry works hard and successfully to maintain fishing quotas, contrary to the advice of science. Throughout the EU’s history, industry has found it easy to convince decision-making ministers that jobs and the economy must be prioritized. That conclusion is so stupid it would be comical if it weren’t so dangerous:

Without sustainable stocks, there are neither jobs nor economy. Is it that hard to understand? Nature must always be prioritized. Otherwise, it’s the same as with the cod – and soon the herring/flounder in the Baltic Sea. So – let me clarify for all those in power: There is no fishing without fish. Point.

A recent debate article in Göteborgsposten is an excellent, if somewhat clumsy, example of how Swedish lobbyists work:

“Surely prawns from the west coast are good together with a suitable drink? And surely it feels good that they are fished locally by an industry that creates tradition and jobs for West Sweden? But hurry up and buy, soon the Swedish shrimp may be replaced by frozen ones imported from the other side of the globe.”

The article is written by five politicians from fishing municipalities in Bohuslän, on the Swedish west coast. They take an active part in the fishing industry’s campaign against wind power.

In August, I visited industry representatives at a meeting on Donsö. The meeting was held in a large tent, and I got the feeling of being in a Free Church congregation. Everyone agreed.

The meeting leaders did not speak of the devil, but next to it. “There are two major threats to fishing,” they said. “The cormorant and wind power.” Nothing about climate change, warming, plastic waste, eutrophication – and absolutely no talk of overfishing. That would be swearing in church.

But offshore wind power must be fought, with the help of local politicians, who write:

“If the large-scale wind power plans in Skagerrak were to become a reality, about 5,000 people in the industry at sea and on land would be affected. More and more fishermen are selling their boats and there is a risk that those who are active in fishing today will also be the last ones. A West Swedish culture and tradition is dying out and being prioritized away.”

The “debaters” also claim that shrimp fishing is important for Swedish food production and our country’s “independence”. Seriously? Shrimps for freedom?

The politicians become the industry’s handy men in a controversial issue of the future. “Shrimp from the West Coast with a suitable drink” is unashamedly opposed to Sweden’s energy needs. The fact that the shrimp is classified by SLU’s Artdatabank as “near threatened” and is red listed by the World Wide Fund for Nature – is ignored. I can argue that if the construction of wind power stops shrimp fishing, the shrimp population can recover – to the benefit of the ocean’s food web. But ecology is never interesting to industry lobbyists. Only short-term economics applies there.

The lobbyists spin their webs everywhere, in the bureaucracy, in research, in politics. The industry was allowed to control the EU’s fisheries policy for five decades before a popular movement and several members of parliament with good arguments succeeded in forcing a new fisheries law, agreed between the Council of Ministers and parliament. In 2013, it was decided that all stocks would be fished sustainably by 2020. Now we have the result. Overfishing continues. Industry lobbyists have taken back control. The law is broken. No one is held accountable.

For a long time, I lived under the delusion that the European seas were managed democratically.

Peter Löfgren


Chronicler: Peter Löfgren
Photo: Leif Eiransson

Related articles

EU fisheries ministers exclude the public. The countries’ mutual positions are kept secret. We citizens are not allowed to influence the decisions that are decisive for the ocean and the planet. The fishing quotas are set over a couple of hectic days and usually exceed the advice of science. Deep Sea Reporter has exclusively interviewed the EU’s own Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly, who condemns the lack of transparency……
Reportage: Peter Löfgren
Editing: Helena Fredriksson
Photo: Leif Eiranson
Archive: European Union
EU fisheries ministers are currently violating EU laws, yet no one has been held accountable for their actions. However, today, March 16, environmental organizations are taking the issue to the European Court of Justice, arguing that the violation of the law must have serious consequences….
Text: Peter Löfgren
Foto: Göran Ehlmé
Scroll to Top