BRUSSELS – With Baltic cod drawing closer to the edge of commercial extinction, the European Union on Monday set tougher catch quotas for fishermen but stayed well above targets sought by scientists and environmentalists.
After all-day negotiations in Luxembourg, the EU fisheries ministers agreed on a 56 percent quota cut for the western Baltic cod caught off Denmark and Germany, while scientists were pushing for the quota to be cut by about 90 percent.
Officials said Denmark was pushing hard to safeguard the livelihood of its fishermen to make sure there was enough that they would still be allowed to catch.
EU Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella had been seeking a reduction of 88 percent "to bring back the stock to sustainability as soon as possible" but also had to compromise to keep member states on board for a unanimous decision.
"After listening to the member states' arguments, and the impacts on the different fleets and in particular on artisanal fleets, I have accepted a lower reduction," Vella said, insisting it would still give the species a good chance of survival in the Baltic waters.
The EU has agreed to revamp its fishing policies to protect dozens of species from commercial extinction, and by 2020 all fish must be sustainably caught. Member states, however, have a long tradition of rejecting scientific advice and instead sought the best deal possible for the industry, not for the survival of the fish. Over the years, it has driven many species to the edge of a full collapse, and instead of being plentiful, like cod in the Atlantic and North Sea and Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, they became threatened species.
It is now the same for cod in the western Baltic and tough quota reductions are needed. Some environmentalists have called for a total closing of those fisheries.
"Ministers appear to have again ignored scientific advice and decided on continued overfishing in the Baltic," said campaign director Andrew Clayton of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
During the 1965-1985 period, the western Baltic cod stock yielded catches between 40,000 tons and 50,000 tons per year. But landings have since steadily decreased. This year, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea scientific maritime organization suggested reducing the Total Allowable Catch for the region's cod from 12,720 tons to 917 tons in 2017.
Under Monday's agreement, it will be between 5,000 and 6,000 tons.