This week, representatives from all EU member states around the Baltic Sea and stakeholders met in Latvia at the Baltfish forum. Baltfish works on two levels – the High Level Group (HLG) and the Forum seminars. The HLG is currently only open to member state administrations and the Baltic Sea director of the EU Commission, whereas the forum seminars are open to stakeholders – like Oceana and other NGOs for example. Here we have the chance to forward our ideas on the items on the HLG agenda. The purpose of Baltfish is for the Baltic Sea countries to informally agree on common positions ahead of EU Fisheries-Council meetings. The most important item on the agenda was the establishment of fishing opportunities (the amount of each stock Member States will be allowed to catch) for 2014, which will be decided on at the October Council meeting in Brussels. The other items on the agenda were the upcoming discard ban in the Baltic Sea and the functioning of Baltfish.
Oceana presented its recommendations on fishing opportunities for 2014, asking Ministers to get on track to achieve Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2015. This means a drastic cut in the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for Baltic salmon, as well as a larger cut in the TAC for cod in the Western Baltic than what is currently laid out in the management plan. It is our hope that these recommendations will be endorsed by the decision makers.
Regarding the discard ban in the Baltic Sea, it’s clear that there is a long road ahead before the ban will be put in place. The Danish administration has put a lot of effort into outlining the details of this new policy, with the aim of having the full ban in force in 2015. However, many details are still unsolved, such as what kind of legal procedure and instruments will be used, what species should be included, and what gears would be exempt from the ban. Oceana appreciates the work that the Danish administration is doing, but we are concerned that the current outline of the ban includes some doubtful elements from an environmental perspective, such as decreasing the minimum landing size for cod, from 38 cm to 35 cm. We are of the opinion that the problem with discards should primarily be solved at sea, through measures to increase selectivity in fishing gear rather than to allow the commercialization of undersized fish.
In the discussions on the future functioning of Baltfish, Oceana and a number of other NGOs also provided joint recommendations for increased transparency and clear structures for stakeholder involvement. As it is now, too much is unclear regarding the location, time and content of future meetings.