RIGA - The Latvian Agriculture Ministry has rejected calls by the European Commission for a proposed 15 percent fishing quota reduction of cod in the Baltic Sea in 2008. Latvian Agriculture Ministry state secretary Dace Lucaua says that the proposal to reduce the possibility of the cod haul by [this amount] is unacceptable for Latvia, as it would cause a crisis in the fishing industry.
The sustainability of the two Baltic cod stocks, distinctly classified as "eastern" and "western" and fished by the same fleets, often in the course of a single trip out to sea, "continues to give serious cause for concern, with the western stock, which was formerly the stronger of the two, having again fallen outside of safe biological limits," reported the commission.
Under the commission's proposal, overall quotas for cod catches in the eastern part of the Baltic would be cut by 23 percent, while in the western Baltic the allowable catch would be slashed by 33 per cent.
Lucaua points out that the commission's position is not grounded, either economically or from the point of view of fisheries resource protection. She also says that the reduction would affect legal fishing fleets, instead of the illegal ones, and that as a tool for curbing illegal fishing, the plan is insufficiently and unconvincingly presented.
Central to current European Commission concerns, however, is the fact that substantial under-reporting of catches in these fisheries has continued through the first half of 2007.
The commission's proposals are in line with the provisions of the Multi-annual Plan, which aims to reduce fishing mortality by 10 percent each year and to rebuild and maintain Baltic cod stocks; however, due to "the gravity of the latest scientific advice, exceeding the 15 percent limit on Total Annual Catch variations [reductions] is justified," says the commission.
In June, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea went further when it reiterated its recommendation for a complete closure of the eastern cod fishery, while advising a 50 percent cut in the TAC on western cod.
Latvian Agriculture Minister Martins Roze emphasized that a huge proportion of Latvian fishermen base their activity on the cod haul and that they are not doing well now. "The proposal to reduce cod fishing possibilities by 15 percent does not correspond to the EU's long term management plan, and thus is unacceptable. The Latvian Agriculture Ministry will do everything to prevent the decision," he said.
The EU agriculture and fisheries ministers are meeting October 22 - 23 in Luxembourg. The European Commission will then present its proposal for the 2008 fishing quotas in early December, which will set the basis for the EU ministers' decision at the Fisheries Council.
During the ministers' meeting, Latvia plans to ask for keeping the total sprat haul at this year's level, while the commission's proposal on Baltic herring is in principle acceptable, although a further reduction of the total haul of Baltic herring in the Riga Bay is not acceptable, according to Latvian Agriculture Ministry opinion.
According to the initial EU proposal, the Baltic herring take for 2008 in Riga Bay is to be reduced by 3.7 percent to 19,426 tons, from 20,183 tons in 2007; the haul for cod in the eastern part of the Baltic Sea is planned to be reduced by 22.6 percent to 2,696 tons, from 3,485 tons in 2007; for cod in the western part of the Baltic Sea, the reduction is planned at 32.8 percent to 647 tons, from 964 tons in 2007.
EU member states negatively affected by these measures may, under the European Fisheries Fund, grant aid to the impacted fishing industry.