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May 28, 2013

On Cod and the Kattegat



Over the last couple of years, several reports have come out on the come-back of cod in the Baltic Sea. It turns out; a lot of stocks are doing pretty well and are growing. Of course, the fish are still smaller in size than 20 years ago and most scientists advise a cautious approach, but there is at least hope. Unfortunately, this positive news doesn’t apply to the Kattegat sea, which has been quite overlooked in the public debate on cod.

According to scientists at International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), cod stocks in the Kattegat are at an all-time low. Ten years ago the cod quota in Kattegat was set at 852 tons. This year the quota is at 37 tons. Actually, since 2012 it hasn’t even been allowed to fish directly for cod in the Kattegat. The quota is only for accidental catches, or by-catch,  of fisheries targeting other species. 

Last week the Swedish agency for marine and water management stopped all cod fishing in the Kattegat (in Sweden) for the rest of this year as the quota had already been reached. But what does that mean in reality? That the cod of the Kattegat is going to be left alone for the rest of the year? Eh, no. Because the fishing vessels will not, by some miracle, be able to avoid by-catch. The same amount of cod is going to be pulled out of the water, but instead of being landed, it will be thrown back, dead or dying into the sea to avoid having to register it against the now surpassed quota.

This is why it is so important to work on reducing by-catch through, for example, obligating better fishing gear selectivity and larger mesh sizes, as well as setting a requirement to land all catches. These are currently being discussed in Brussels as the European Parliament and Council of Ministers negotiate the final outcome of the CFP reform.