Contradicting a classic principle of fishery, calm is exactly what fish do not need in this moment. The maritime wildlife of the European seas has being suffering for decades with pollution and unsustainable fishing practices. Now, some ecosystems are in considerable danger, facing a possible irreversible imbalance of their natural chain, and this can all be linked to the ineffectiveness of those in charge to compromise on this matter.
“Two months before the end of the deadline, they [European Commission] finally put quotas adequate for the fishing practices in the Baltic Sea. This should have been made years ago, not now,” said the maritime specialist of the WWF Organization, Karin Glaumann.
She speaks about the Common Fishery Policy (CFP) agreement, signed by the EU in 2014, which had a six year deadline to end with overfishing in Europe. The institution was supposed to put realistic catching limits to avoid an imbalance in the maritime ecosystems, without affecting the fishery community, but this wasn’t the reality. The quotas were constantly taxed above the scientists recommendations, harming the local species and feeding the skepticism of those who do not believe in the effectiveness of the institution.
Known as the Marginal Sea, this Mediterranean part of the Atlantic is considered one of the most endangered areas in the whole continent. As if the natural hazards that the region faces are not enough, with the climate change increasing the salinization of the waters and disrupting several ecosystems, the maritime wild live remaining there is also struggling with unsustainable fishing practices. Fisherman who, for lack of supervision and education, continue to explore the region without restrictions, preventing the rehabilitation of certain species.
Reaching the 2020 deadline, the project could not be considered a success, according to specialists. While trying to find the balance between the fisherman and the maritime wildlife needs, the process went slow and now the region is exposed to a crisis. Five years of existence and in the end of this plan not much have been made.
WWF, as a well know representant of environmental causes, believes that the progress made across all major themes of this project was insufficient, with national marine strategies failing to include clear, concrete objectives in line with the CFP.
“Fishery is not only just put the quota for the next year, but also how to use the fishing gears, how to report the fishing in the harbors, how to control that the fisherman are taking what they said they should be taking,” said the Baltic Ecoregion Programme Director, Ottilia Thoreson.
One month before the final day, the EU Council finally adopted most of the Commission’s proposals. It decided to reduce the Total Allowable Catches (TACs) of Cod, one of the most commercialized species, to 60% in the Western Baltic and 92% in the Eastern Baltic, which is already prohibited to fish until the end of this year, for 2020.
“This year the quotas were relatively good, because we have this deadline, so I guess the policy makers felt the pressure. For many of the stocks they do hear the scientists, but some of these species are now in an advanced, critical, stage. For example, the Eastern Baltic Cod, which is actually close to collapse,” said the specialist in Fishery and Market, Karin Glaumann.
WHO’S THROWING THE NET?
The quotas and the TACs are catch limits that are set for most commercial fish stocks. The Commission prepares the proposals, the amount, based on scientific advice on the stock status from advisory bodies such as ICES and STECF. Even though they can give recommendations on what measures they think is appropriate, it’s up to the Ministers to decide the amount they will set. And this lead to one of the most criticized aspects of the project.
“We have the Advisory Council, but the fact that the industry have 60% of representation and the ANGIOs have 40% shows that there isn’t genuinely a balance. They possess more influence than any other interest groups,” said Karin.
For the last five years, the final number set for these quotas were above the scientist recommendation. Industry pressure or scepticism in the scientists data, the reason is not clear and, according to a source in the European Parliament, neither is “the procedure of taxation.” The difference between these numbers is not insignificant, and the decision-makers insistence in ignoring them could be harmful.
“When the quotas decided for that period of time is above the scientific recommendations you can understand that the industry probably had participated in the negotiations,” said the WWF scientist.
THE ECONOMIC IMPACT
Proposing a more sustainable quota, like the current number presented by the European Commission for 2020, after years of adopting a more conservative stance definitely rocked some seas.
“In the light of the scientific advice, the Commission’s proposal for certain stocks does not come as a big surprise. But for some, it has taken the wrong course and has gone further than biologically necessary,” says the chairman of the Danish Fishermen PO, Svend-Erik Andersen.
The Danish fisheries, for an example, weren’t happy with the Commission’s recent proposal, which determine a reduction on all their important stocks, like the cod and herring.
According to the representative, the quota setting should honour the obligations of the EU’s common fisheries policy to ensure economic, social and environmental sustainability. This decision, in his vision, will affect directly the coastal fishermen and their ports, which will “have to pay the price for several years of incorrect fisheries management.”
The fear of the industry is that this “hefty cut” adopted by the EU Council can cause economic and irreversible damage in the Baltic to both the fleet and the economic structures dependent on the supply of fish, such as processing plants, ports and transport industries. “With quota reductions of up to 92%, a enormous part of the large-scale and small-scale fleets are bound to disappear,” said the Managing Director of Europêche, Daniel Voces.
The situation of the Baltic populations is by far not the exclusive responsibility of fishermen. According to Voces, the natural mortality is three or four times higher than fishing mortality. “The deterioration of Baltic stocks has not been caused by overfishing, but by environmental impacts. However, in the end, our fishermen are always the ones paying the price.” The industry warns of the impact caused by low oxygen levels, pollution, climate change and elevated levels of parasite infestations.
UNDER NEW ADMINISTRATION
With the change of power inside the EU institutions, the specialists feel optimistic. In the beginning of this month, the new set of commissioners, chosen by Ursula Von der Leyen, ultimately assumed their positions, after all the member states approved the german president choices. Mixed in this wave of politicians is the 29 years old Lithuania ocean specialist, who on 1st of December of 2019 will become the new Commissioner of Maritime and Fishery Affairs.
In his hearing, Virginijus Sinkevičius committed to fully implement the Common Fisheries Policy and its upcoming evaluation. He added that the EU must remain a global leader for sustainable fisheries and ocean governance. And also mentioned the importance of healthy oceans to ensure healthy fish stocks and thriving fishing communities.
“There are a lot of sifts there are going to happen. There are a lot of questions marks around this, so is time to, again, start thinking more about long term,” said the Baltic Ecoregion Programme Director, Ottilia Thoreson.
She believes that the CFP represent a good policy, the problem is that “we don’t see the implementation; we don’t see the countries putting effort in to stick with the levels stipulated there.” So, she asks, “now that we are going to pass the deadline, what is going to be the next step for the EU and the Baltic Sea Countries to achieve a balanced?”