Fished out? The crisis in German fisheries in the Baltic Sea is coming to a head

Rostock (dpa) – The German Baltic Sea fishery is not doing well. Over the years the most important stocks have collapsed and with them the permissible catches.

At the beginning of the week, the fishermen will have the next bad news – then the responsible EU ministers want to decide on the catches for the coming year .

«It’s a catastrophe for the German fishery», says Christopher Zimmermann. He heads the Thünen Institute for Baltic Sea Fisheries in Rostock and advises the EU Commission within the framework of the International Council for Marine Research (ICES). “This year, for the fourth time in a row, we recommended that the herring fishery be stopped.” For the first time it was also recommended to reduce the cod fishery in the western Baltic Sea to such an extent that it is only sufficient for bycatch, but no longer for targeted cod fisheries.

“This is undoubtedly one for our German Baltic Sea fisheries extreme stress, “said Federal Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner. Herring and cod in the western Baltic Sea – these stocks are the bread fish of the German Baltic Sea fishermen. According to Zimmermann, the permitted catch of herring in the western Baltic Sea was reduced by 94 percent from 2017 to 2021. If the EU agriculture and fisheries ministers follow the ICES recommendation, there would be a reduction in cod in the western Baltic Sea since 2017 by more than 95 percent .

The number of professional fishermen is constantly falling

The consequences for fishermen are devastating. According to the neighboring states of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Schleswig-Holstein, a little over 400 professional fishermen were recently counted on the Baltic Sea. 2010 it was 650, at the beginning of the 90 years more than 1300. Both countries already offer scrapping premiums for fishing cutters. Fishing cooperatives are being wound up.

“Of course we have a clear downward trend,” says Peter Breckling, Secretary General of the German Fisheries Association. One wants to maintain at least a little bit of local fishing and supplies in the coastal area. He is calling for a plan from politicians as to what the infrastructure in the ports should look like in the future: Who will supply the few remaining fishermen with ice for cooling when there is no longer a cooperative ice machine on site?

If Stella Nemecky has its way, there is virtually no German Baltic Sea fishery for the time being. “We have legalized overfishing in the Baltic Sea for over 20 years,” criticizes the fishing expert from the environmental organization WWF. Climate change and over-fertilization from agriculture played a role. “But overfishing is the primary driver.” Nor can one switch to sprat or flatfish such as plaice, which are doing comparatively well. “Because cod and herring are also taken out in all cases.”

In their opinion, even the reduction in the maximum daily catch for anglers from five to one cod per day proposed by the EU Commission is not enough. «We need every fish.»

Cod threatened with disappearing

Zimmermann is not like Nemecky of the opinion that cod is threatened with disappearing. Therefore, an amount of bycatch for flatfish could also be set. However, they must also be monitored and when the maximum bycatch is reached, the flatfish fishery must also be closed. “But that is not controlled and not implemented.” It is to be feared that dead cod from the trawl fishery will simply be thrown overboard when there are scarce catches.

There are nets that are roughly 80 Percent of cod by-catches prevented. However, their use is still not mandatory. In addition, the German plaice quota is very low. “And that’s why it is financially and in terms of the masses no alternative for what is breaking away with cod and herring,” says Zimmermann. The Danes, on the other hand, could not use their quota at all.

There are also other issues with regulation, as Breckling from the Fisheries Association explains. While German fishermen are being allowed ever smaller catches of herring in the western Baltic Sea, Norwegians, for example, fish to a much larger extent from the same stock – just elsewhere. The herring migrates, including in the Skagerrak between Denmark and Norway. For this reason, German fishermen cannot be informed of a stop to fishing.

Klöckner wants protective measures

The problem seems to have reached the political level. Klöckner also called for decisive protective measures for the Kattegat between Denmark and Sweden and the Skagerrak. “The drastic cuts for fishermen in the Baltic Sea will otherwise have no effect.” She therefore advocated that the decision on western herring should not be made until the December Council, when the decisions on herring fishing in the North Sea and the Skagerrak are also on the agenda. In addition, the results of the fisheries consultations with Great Britain and Norway could be incorporated into the decision. Expert Zimmermann would also welcome a merger. “Because otherwise the western Baltic Sea always pays in advance and the others then rest on it.” Even if you are now at a point where you would ideally not have reached, he warns against a blanket ban on fishing. “Eating fish is more environmentally friendly than anything we produce in the form of proteins on land.”

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