Cod quotas to plummet next year

  • 2001-11-29
  • Leah Bower
RIGA - As the number of cod in the Baltic Sea steadily decreases Latvia's cod-reliant fishing industry faces a struggle to survive.

The amount of cod domestic fishing vessels can net in European Union waters is set to take a sharp dive in 2002, amid concerns the fishery can't support the catches of past years.

Latvian fishing vessels can only take 1,450 tons of cod from EU-controlled waters next year, said Normunds Riekstins, director of the National Fishing Board, a drop of 27.5 percent from 2001.

"It is because of the state of cod stocks in the Baltic Sea," he said. "Some fishing companies will definitely be in trouble. It will be difficult for them to survive."

Normunds Velicko, director of the small Liepaja based fishing company Seagulls, is already eyeing other waters in which to catch cod once the reduced quota kicks in.

"I'm thinking about relocating my business to Russian waters," said Velicko, whose company operates two boats, the Seagull and the Kandava, in the Baltic Sea.

Velicko expects his cod take - and his profits - to drop by 27.5 percent in 2002, a blow that will definitely sink Seagulls if he doesn't find new fishing grounds.

The Latvian fishing industry's reliance on cod is second only to its reliance on sprats, meaning that a decrease in the quota threatens many in the industry.

In 2000, Latvian vessels hauled more than 6,000 tons of cod and 43,000 tons of sprats from both Latvian and EU waters, according to the Latvian Fish Fund. Herring accounted for slightly more than 5,000 tons.

Cod caught in EU waters officially accounts for about a third of the total take by Latvia, Riekstins said.

But in reality the proportion could be as much as three-quarters, said a fishing industry official who asked not to be named.

"Cod accounts for about 50 percent of small fishing companies' incomes," he added.

Ivo Bergmanis, director of Vetrasputni fishing company, which operates four fishing boats out of Ventspils port, said he accepted the need to allow stocks to replenish. He predicted Vetrasputni would ride out the storm because cod price would rise as availability of the fish decreased.

"If we are going to stay in this business for long we need to think about conserving resources," Bergmanis said. "We need to look to the future."

But the future doesn't look bright.

Stocks of cod, like other species, have dwindled over the past five years as food supplies have decreased, reproductive habitats have been degraded and over-fishing has continued.

Officially, the amount of cod taken from the Baltic Sea has decreased steadily since 1998, but in reality illicit fishing is common, said the fishery official.

"Five years ago the situation was already critical," he said. "Last year cod stocks in the Baltic almost halved."

He predicted that the latest reduction in cod quotas would do little to preserve the fish's numbers because companies would continue to underreport their catches and would sell so called gray fish illegally to processing plants.

Riekstins said limiting the size of the quota reduction to 27.5 percent had involved a battle since the EU wanted the catch to be even smaller.

All three Baltic states renegotiate fishing quotas with the EU every year, but neither Lithuania nor Estonia has yet reached an agreement for 2002.

Harijs Grieze, whose Laura fishing company operates four boats also out of Ventspils port, said the company would be hit hard by the reduction, although he understood the need to preserve the cod fishery.

"I don't know that these quotas are very fair," he said. "But it is about preserving the cod resources. Of course as a company director I can't be very happy."