Who Has Taken Folke’s Fish?

13 July, 2023

Folke Rydén, today’s guest columnist, is an acclaimed documentary filmmaker known for his work on the Baltic Sea. Like millions of Swedes, he shares a deep connection with the sea. Over the course of many years, Folke has witnessed with growing concern the profound changes occurring in his beloved Baltic Sea.


I sit in the boat and jig. It rhythmically jerks with the same reel as last year, and the year before that. Every weekend before Midsummer, we have been catching herring at sunset in the bay outside Vätö in Roslagen. We have been doing this for 22 years now. I have marked a waypoint, an exact GPS position, to ensure that we are always in the same spot. We typically fish for an hour at the same depth, neither more nor less. During this hour, we usually reel in over a hundred silvery fish. Sometimes the catch has been larger, but never smaller. This year, we were particularly eager to see the outcome. We had heard about the threatened herring, or “sill” as it’s known south of Kalmarsund. It is the very engine of the Baltic Sea ecosystem. Now, there were discussions of a collapse. How significant would our catch be?

Until I turned 40, I had no connection to the Baltic Sea. For many years, I worked as a foreign correspondent, focusing on various issues, including environmental scandals in distant countries. When I returned home, we acquired a summer place just 30 meters from the sea at Björköfjärden in Norrtälje municipality. It offered me the opportunity to explore this magnificent world. I acquired a boat and developed an understanding of the sea.

However, it didn’t take long for me to become aware of the tremendous environmental challenges: eutrophication, overfishing, hazardous emissions, endangered species, toxic algal blooms. All of this was happening in an ocean surrounded by countries that consider themselves to be among the most environmentally friendly nations in the world. It struck me—how can we demand global action when we haven’t even solved urgent environmental problems within our own borders?

As I sit in the boat and jig now, it suddenly dawns on me that I am, in a way, conducting a quasi-scientific experiment. I have systematically studied the occurrence of a specific species in the same place, at the same time, and at the same depth. The results consistently show an average of around a hundred fish per outing.

This year, however, the fish were small in size and the quantity was meager. We managed to catch only nine (9) herring. Never before have our catches been so modest. Admittedly, this example falls under what researchers refer to as anecdotal evidence. Nevertheless, it is one of the signs of the times. The environment is changing right before our eyes, and it is impossible to turn a blind eye. It evokes emotions, which can be summarized in a single question—what can we do?

I often say that we can take three actions: Care, acquire knowledge, and take action. You, who have found this page and are reading this text, clearly care. You are likely dedicated enough to seek out available knowledge. That’s a positive sign. Without information and knowledge, we risk making uninformed and perilous decisions.

So, how should we act? Cease fishing for herring, prohibit trawling and large-scale fishing, engage decision-makers, submit appeals, or even consider abstaining from consuming fish. There are numerous suggestions, and it is up to each individual to choose. However, doing nothing—to refrain from taking action—also constitutes a decisive stance. After all, it is we, over 90 million people around the Baltic Sea, who determine the kind of sea we desire.

Chronicle: Folke Rydén
Photo: Folke Rydén

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