Fishing at the Baltic See

Seafood is a common part of our diet and often considered as a popular healthy choice. Too often consumers are unaware of the problems behind the seafood they see in their plate – of the harmful or wasteful fisheries and rapid decline in the numbers of fish to catch out at sea.

The Baltic Sea drains through narrow passages by the Danish islands into the Kattegat by way of the straits of Øresund, the Great Belt, and the Little Belt. It includes the Gulf of Bothnia, the Bay of Bothnia, the Gulf of Finland, the Gulf of Riga, and the Bay of Gdańsk.

There have been drastic changes to the Baltic fish populations causing ripple effects for the entire Baltic Sea ecosystem as well as causing changes to lower levels of the food chain and contributing to other problems such as eutrophication, that is the enrichment of a water body with nutrients, usually with an excess amount of nutrients. This process induces growth of plants and algae and due to the biomass load, may result in oxygen depletion of the water body.

Too many boats and inadequate control mechanisms – continues to put fish stocks, marine ecosystems and coastal communities at risk.

Sweden’s professional fisherman is getting less. More effective fishing – and as everyone knows at this point – years of brutal overfishing have made both fish and profitability of the fish disappear.

Since the turn of the millennium, every third Swedish professional fisherman has left the profession. In 2000, the 2300 professional fishermen are today the number 1600.

Overfishing does not only deplete the specific fish caught, it also changes the sea’s food web structures. Predators, such as seals and seabirds are affected negatively when the fish they normally eat decrease, while prey fish and organisms increase and take over as their natural predators like cod in the Baltic Sea disappear.

Kåseberga is a picturesque fishing village on the South East coast of Skåne, with about 120 inhabitants. They welcome about 700 000 visitors every year, who visit the village. Here we eat fried herring on our trip on October 11th. Karmenu Vella, EU-Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, said: ”We are proposing a balanced package that will ensure sustainable fisheries in the Baltic Sea. The good news is that important quotas for Baltic herring (is what we eat here) and salmon can be increased. Responsible management measures by Member States and the fishing industry are paying off. Now we must learn from these success stories and act urgently for those stocks that are still in a worrying state, like the European eel.”

Fishing in the Baltic Sea is regulated by the European Common Fisheries Policy. Specific quotas are set for each of the most important commercial species. Because the quotas historically have been higher than the reproductive capacity of the ecosystem, they have led to decreased or depleted fish stocks. Overfishing also occurs through by-catch and illegal fishing.

A major solution to improving the fish populations in the Baltic Sea is to stop overfishing, implementing sustainable fisheries management and reducing harmful fishing practices.

That is why WWF is working together with fishermen, governments, regional body Baltic Sea Advisory Council and market players in the seafood industry to change the trend in overfishing and over consumption of seafood.

There are five main targeted fish species in the Baltic Sea, namely cod. Salmon, herring, plaice and sprat – all managed under the CFP. WWF is advocating for long-term management plans for these species which include set management guidelines with adequate closures in marine protected areas and other defined sensitive areas where they spawn or feed

At the meeting of the Council of Ministers on 9-10 October, the EU Fisheries Ministers decided on quotas for Baltic fishing for 2018. The species covered include cod, herring, sprat, salmon and plaice.

Everything is connected. Both the activities out at sea as well as on land have an impact on the wellbeing of fish stocks and overall marine ecosystem of the Baltic Sea.

And…The ticking time-bomb at the bottom of the Baltic Sea

Based on decisions made at the Potsdam Conference in 1945 where Stalin, Churchill, and Truman met, Britain and the Soviet Union dumped about 65,000 tons of Nazi chemical weapons into the rather shallow waters of the Baltic Sea (average depth, 55 meters/180 feet).

Recent research by Poland’s Military University of Technology has found traces of mustard gas on the sea bed just a few hundred meters off the Polish coast, in the Gulf of Gdansk. This indicates corrosion of the metal, and that poisonous chemicals are now leaking into the water and could be absorbed by fish, entering the food chain.

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The students in the first year have worked on water quality at Lund University. We are preparing our continued work with a focus on trade.