On 22 September, EU institutions concluded negotiations on providing support to Baltic Sea fishers, enabling them to cope with the socio-economic effects of severe fishing restrictions.
The agreed measures provide for additional flexibility in exceptional circumstances: Member States affected by the closure of the Eastern Baltic cod fishery will have the possibility to make financial support for permanent cessation of fishing activities through scrapping available under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund 2014-2020.
At the same time, support for the permanent cessation of fishing activities is linked to reducing the size of the fleet involved in these activities.
The agreement was also reached on extending the scope of the original proposal to include Western Baltic cod and Western Baltic herring, in order for vessels targeting these two stocks to also be able to apply for permanent cessation support.
Eastern Baltic cod stocks have been declining sharply in recent years, for a variety of reasons, linked mainly to environmental and anthropogenic factors. On 22 July 2019, as an emergency measure, the Commission prohibited fishing for six months, with the exception of a limited amount arising from the unavoidable by-catch. Subsequently, fishing opportunities for 2020 were cut by 92 %. Fishing opportunities for Western Baltic cod and Western herring were also significantly reduced.
As recovery of the stocks is not expected before 2024, on 31 October 2019 the Commission issued a proposal amending the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund Regulation in order to allow support for permanent cessation and introducing parallel changes to the Baltic multiannual plan by setting capacity limits for the fishing segments concerned and by including additional control and data collection measures.
The fleet segments with the highest dependency on Eastern Baltic cod encompass more than 300 vessels, mainly trawlers and netters in Lithuania, Latvia and Poland (representing between roughly 20% and 50% of the respective national fleet), and to a lesser extent, Denmark and Germany.
Other issues agreed: The threshold applicable to the live weight of cod, above which a fishing vessel is required to land its catches in a designated port, is set at 250kg; Member states are required to communicate to the Commission the yearly average from 2015-2019 of the total capacity of all vessels with fishing opportunities allocation for each of the three concerned stocks, as well as the total amount of capacity withdrawn for these vessels; Member states cannot re-allocate capacity to these vessel groups before 5 years following the withdrawal, or before the stock concerned has been above sustainability levels for a period of three years.
Following the political agreement, rapporteur Niclas Herbst (EPP, DE) said: “With today’s agreement, the European Parliament has explicitly improved Commission’s proposal in key areas. The measures decided today clearly include help for professional fishermen of Western and Eastern cod stocks as well as herring. The massive decrease in fish stocks in the Baltic Sea was not caused by overfishing. Several ecological factors are responsible for the crisis. Consequently, it is evident that EU now helps fishermen affected in a social manner. The help decided today must now be implemented as soon as possible.”
Parliament and Council are now expected to endorse the content of the agreement. The regulation will enter into force one day after its publication in the Official Journal.