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Fisheries Brief no. 23: Prioritise small-scale fishing

At the end of April, the Stockholm newspaper Mitti ran an article about the super trawler Clipperton from the west coast of Sweden, which alone catches 175 times more Baltic herring in the waters off Stockholm County than all the county’s fishermen combined. “This has disastrous consequences for the entire archipelago,” says Henrik C. Andersson, the county’s fisheries advisor.

The owner of the super trawler maintains that his fishing is sustainable and that the vessel stays within its allocated quotas. This type of large-scale fishing is a result of the EU’s fisheries policy and Sweden’s application of the rules. Large-scale overfishing is behind the Baltic cod crisis, which is why the authorities ought to react immediately when the county’s fisheries advisor raises concerns about threats to fish stocks and the impact on the ecology of the Baltic Sea.

Illu brief 23
Text in chart: 4,417 kg. Stockholm County’s fishermen catch the equivalent of about 0.6 % of Clipperton’s catch for a year.
770,206 kg. Operating alone, the super trawler Clipperton has caught 175 times as much Baltic herring as all Stockholm’s fishermen combined.

10 years of ITQ – transferable fishing rights
Just over a decade ago transferable fishing rights, so-called ITQs, were introduced for the Swedish pelagic fishery (offshore fishing for herring, sprat and Baltic herring). Over the years a few financially strong companies have been able to appropriate all the available quota. From a consolidation perspective, the system has been successful, but there is also a downside. In Denmark, ITQs were introduced for Danish cod fishermen when catches were still good; shortly afterwards stocks began to collapse and with them the fisheries economy. Consequently, the Danish banks ended up becoming the owners of quotas, hardly what the fisheries administration and the banks themselves had hoped for.

For whose sake will we be fishing?
Paradoxically, work is currently under way at the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SwAM) to introduce ITQs for other types of Swedish fisheries, including the already vulnerable Baltic cod fishery. To benefit large-scale fishing in this way would be devastating. It is devastating for the marine environment, it is devastating for small-scale and sustainable coastal fishermen, and it is devastating for our coastal communities.

It makes no sense to discuss individual quotas for cod fisheries in the Baltic Sea because the cod stock is in crisis and it will be a considerable period of time before it recovers. Should the ITQ system be expanded in the Baltic Sea despite this, it must be of limited duration and include rules on regular and thorough evaluation.

Those who defend industrial fishing in the Baltic Sea, where the catch is used to produce fishmeal, say that there is no demand for herring and Baltic herring for consumption. Given the damage that industrial fishing is doing to fish stocks and coastal fishing, those responsible must ask themselves – for whose sake will we be fishing? The marine environment and the biological status of fish stocks must take precedence over the income of a small number of fishermen from the west coast of Sweden.

Small-scale fishing initiatives
In Fisheries Brief no. 22, we described a number of initiatives that focus on small-scale fishing. Region Stockholm’s commissioner for the archipelago is the initiator of a network of regions along the coast that supports small-scale, locally based fishing. Political pressure for a change in the fisheries policy is set to grow.

Our study of fishing in the Sound (Öresund) showed how local, small-scale commercial and tourist fishing provides significantly higher revenues for both fishermen and coastal communities. In Blekinge, some small-scale fishermen started FiskOnline, where customers can reserve and purchase catches even before the boat has reached harbour. These are the kinds of innovations that commercial fishing activities in the Baltic Sea need, not bureaucratic tricks that continue to benefit large-scale industrial fishing.


Several interesting proposals have been put forward to protect and prioritise
small-scale and coastal fishing:

  • Extending the trawling limit, and in the long run abolishing large-scale fishing where it competes
    with small-scale fishermen or
    causes a shortage of the cod’s main food source, for example.
  • Giving priority to small-scale fishing too in the case of decreasing quotas and the possible
    introduction of ITQs.
  • Simplifying and adapting rules and administration for fishermen engaged in small-scale fishing
    or fishing as a sideline.
  • Some fish stocks should be managed regionally.
  • The catches must be intended for human consumption.

It will take many years of fishing bans before the cod hopefully can recover. If this is to happen, industrial fishing for herring and sprat must not deplete the cod’s main food source. Drastic changes are needed to commercial fishing and this must happen now. The environment and the ecology of the Baltic Sea must be the starting point for how marine resources are used, not commercial fishing revenues. Commercial fishing is heavily subsidised and can never have any socioeconomic significance. However, small-scale, locally based fishing can have an impact, at least at regional level, creating jobs, providing access to locally caught food, and contributing to dynamic coastal communities.

Click here to read Fisheries Brief no.23 in pdf

Click here to read previous Fisheries Briefs:
Fisheries Brief No. 1: How big is the fishing industry?
Fisheries Brief No. 2: Discards continue despite ban
Fisheries Brief No. 3: The Baltic Sea cod – a unique and isolated species
Fisheries Brief No. 4: The role of cod in the ecosystem
Fisheries Brief No. 5: Historically low catches of Baltic Sea cod
Fisheries Brief No. 6: Baltic Sea cod quotas
Fisheries Brief No. 7: Who is entitled to the fish?
Fisheries Brief No. 8: Is the Minister for Rural Affairs in charge of fishing matters?
Fisheries Brief No. 9: Responsibility rests with the fishery ministers
Fisheries Brief No. 10: EU’s fisheries policy spectacle damages cod
Fisheries Brief No. 11: Crucial year for Baltic cod
Fisheries Brief No. 12: Continued cod fishing is harmful
Fisheries Brief No. 13: List of measures for the Swedish Minister for Rural Affairs
Fisheries Brief no. 14: The system that fools itself
Fisheries Brief no. 15: Good job government! Now the real work begins
Fisheries Brief no. 16: Navigating the hidden perils of the fisheries policy
Fisheries Brief no. 17: Prioritise the environment over a handful of jobs
Fisheries Brief no. 18: The Commission proposes a zero quota
Fisheries Brief no. 19: Recovery takes time
Fisheries Brief no. 20: Crucial decisions in the short and long term 
Fisheries Brief no. 21: Good decisions – but the fish in the Baltic Sea require a long-term solution
Fisheries Brief no. 22: The fight for a sensible fisheries policy continues in 2020