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April 15, 2013

The Risks of Fish Restocking: the Case of the Baltic Sea

© OCEANA / Carlos Suárez


Sport fishing has throughout history been a way to relax, get away from it all and be closer to nature. Many people think that recreational fishing doesn’t have a big influence on fish populations, but in fact it accounts for approximately one quarter of the total amount of salmon caught in the Baltic Sea region and nearly one half of the catch taken from the shore or rivers.

Many fishing associations have thus resorted to a practice called fish restocking. What they do is raise certain species of fish in big tanks, and when they have reached a specific size they released them into the wild. This is meant to ensure that the fish available for sports fishing are not only bountiful, but are also larger.

But fish restocking can also have negative effects and should be thoroughly investigated by experts before being attempted. There are many factors that play a role here: for example one has to be able to predict the outcome that the restocking will have on the local ecosystem. Will these fish have any effect on the other populations? Will they prey on existing populations? How many fish can be restocked without causing overstocking? Will restocking affect the genetic makeup of the population?

In many countries of the Baltic there has been a lot of talk about reestablishing salmon and sea trout populations. In Sweden for example the populations have declined so much that authorities have set a new goal wherein more than half the year’s catch will consist of farmed fish and new rules for inshore fishing have been proposed to come into force on  June 1st, 2013.

I can’t stress enough how many more factors should be considered before even thinking of fish restocking. More fish means more fishing which consequentially can have a negative effect on the already existing wild population. Is the risk of destroying an ecosystem worth the pleasure of having a fish on your hook?