Fishing and hunting are traditional sources of livelihood in all Baltic Sea countries. Hunting has a minor role today, but fishing is still an important source of food and income. Stock assessments show that three out of eight internationally assessed fish stocks achieve good status with respect to both biomass and fishing mortality rates. However, fourteen stocks are not yet evaluated. Recreational fishing may contribute considerably to the total mortality, especially in coastal areas, but estimates on its magnitude are uncertain. A current challenge being met by the fishing sector is to ensure resource utilization in line with the ecosystem approach.
Commercially exploited fish
The Baltic Sea fisheries targets both marine and freshwater species, but the most important species for the commercial fisheries are marine. Cod, herring and sprat represent about 95% of the total catch in biomass terms. The catches are used for human consumption or industrial use as oil, fish meal or animal fodder, depending on the market conditions.
Other important commercial species are plaice, flounder, dab, brill, turbot, along with the migratory species salmon, and sea trout. Common commercial species with freshwater origin include pike, perch, pikeperch, vendace, and whitefish. The Baltic Sea fisheries also catch eel, classified as a widely distributed species with a population that extend over several marine regions but which has declined considerably (see also Box 5.3.1 in Chapter 3 Fish). Recreational fishing mainly targets the same stocks as commercial fisheries.
The overall objective of the Baltic Sea fisheries is to ensure economically, environmentally and socially sustainable use of fisheries resources in alignment with the ecosystem approach. Long term management plans for the internationally managed fish stocks aim to ensure that these are capable of producing a maximum sustainable yield (MSY), as mainly being regulated by the exploitation rate (EC 2016). Advice based on analytical assessment are provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).
Results are reported here with respect to fishing mortality and spawning stock biomass in relation to the reference points for maximum sustainable yield, including data as available by ICES (2016a).
For stocks where sufficient data for analytical assessment are lacking, ICES provides fisheries advice based on trends in biomass and fishing pressure with no defined targets, applying the precautionary approach. The relative impact of fishing on biomass trends is not possible to evaluate in these cases, since the biomass is also influenced by factors other than fishing. ICES is currently introducing reference points for such data-limited stocks, which will make it possible to evaluate the status in relation to management targets for more species and stocks in the future.
Commercial species in coastal and transitional waters are assessed nationally and are not covered here.
The currently presented assessment result is based on the average results for the years 2011 to 2015, based on data from ICES (2016b).
For each stock, the level of fishing mortality was assessed by comparison with the reference value ‘FMSY’, which is the level of fishing mortality estimated to deliver a long term maximum sustainable yield. The spawning stock biomass was assessed in relation to the associated reference value ‘MSY B-trigger’. Reference values from 2015 were used (ICES 2016a). The results were evaluated against the condition that the average assessment ratios for all included years should achieve a threshold value of 1 for both fishing mortality and spawning stock biomass.
Three of the eight assessed stocks had too high a fishing mortality on average during 2011–2015, whereas five stocks were fished at a level consistent with maximum sustainable yield. Spawning stock biomass was below the biomass reference point for three of the eight assessed stocks, indicating not good status.
Fourteen of the internationally managed stocks currently lack reference points and could therefore not be assessed. (Figure 4.6.1). Furthermore, there is no assessment available for the age and size distribution.
|Name||Scientific name||Assessment area (ICES Sub-division)||F||SSB||Total|
|Brill||Scophthalmus rhombus||North Sea, Skagerrak and Kattegat, English Channel (4, 3a, 7d,e)|
|Cod||Gadus morhua||Western Baltic Sea (22–24)|
|Eastern Baltic Sea (25–32)|
|Flounder||Platichtys flesus||Belt Sea and Sound (22–23)|
|West of Bornholm, S Central Baltic (24–25)|
|East of Gotland, Gulf of Gdansk (26, 28)|
|N Central and Northern Baltic Sea (27, 29–32)|
|Dab||Limanda limanda||Baltic Sea (22–32)|
|Plaice||Pleuronectes platessa||Kattegat, Belt Sea, Sound (21–23)|
|Baltic Sea excl. Sound and Belt Sea (24–32)|
|Sole||Solea solea||Skagerrak and Kattegat, W Baltic Sea (3a, 22–24)|
|Turbot||Scophthalmus maximus||Baltic Sea (22-32)|
|Herring)||Clupea harengus||Central Baltic Sea, excl. Gulf of Riga (25–29, 32)|
|Gulf of Riga (28.1)|
|Bothnian Sea (30)|
|Bothnian Bay (31)|
|Spring spawners, Skagerrak, Kattegat, W Baltic (20-24)|
|Sprat||Sprattus sprattus||Baltic Sea (22-32)|
|Salmon)||Salmo salar||Baltic Sea, excluding Gulf of Finland (22-31)|
|Gulf of Finland (31)|
|Sea trout||Salmo trutta||Baltic Sea (22-32)|
|Eel||Anguilla anguilla||Throughout its natural range|
Among the most widely distributed pelagic stocks, the fishing mortality of sprat during 2011–2015 was above the long term average, whereas that of herring in the central Baltic Sea was slightly below the long term average (Figure 4.6.2). The fishing mortality of Western Baltic cod was also lower than the long term average, but still high above the reference point.
In addition to commercial fishing, substantial removals by recreational fisheries are documented for Western Baltic cod and salmon, and these catches are included in the assessment.
Impacts and recovery from fishing
Impacts of overfishing include depleted fish stocks and reduced biomass. Since fisheries are typically focused on specific species and larger fish, they may also cause structural changes to populations and the food web. Such changes in overall species composition, and a decreased size and age structure of populations, have been seen both in the Baltic and adjacent areas (Cardinale et al. 2009, Eero et al. 2008; Svedäng and Hornborg 2014, see also Chapter 5.3 Fish). Overfishing, and the associated changes at population and ecosystem level, affect long term fishing opportunities and food provision, since the changes in population or food web structure make the depleted stocks less productive and more vulnerable to environmental pressures (Berkeley et al. 2004, Stige et al. 2017).
Fisheries activities in Baltic Sea countries are regulated by the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). In 2009, the European community and the Government of the Russian Federation agreed to cooperate over fisheries and conservation of living marine resources in the Baltic Sea. The current revision of the common fisheries policy was adopted in 2013 and aims to promote environmentally, economically and socially sustainable fishing, including measures to end overfishing and reduce fish discards, for example. Currently, multi-annual plans are in place for the main part of the internationally managed fish stocks, and adjustments to fishing gear have taken place to mitigate negative impacts on the ecosystem and fish stocks (EU 2016c).
In addition to the targeted species and size classes of fish, unselective fishing imposes mortality on smaller sized fish and non-target species of fish, but also on mammals and birds (see Box 5.4.2 and Box 5.5.1), which are caught as incidental by-catch. The unwanted catch of fish has been mostly discarded in the past, and has been monitored and included in stock assessments for cod and some flatfishes. Since 2017, there is a discard ban in place for cod, sprat, herring and salmon. In coming years, the effects of these measures are to be evaluated.
Hunting of seals
Seals have been hunted historically for skin, fur, meat and fat, and they were an important source of income for people, particularly in the Northern Baltic Sea. Seals were also considered a nuisance due to their competition with fisheries, and hunting was encouraged. During the 1900s, bounties were even paid for hunting seals. A combination of hunting and environmental factors led to a dramatic decline in seal populations.
In the 1970s and 1980s, seals were protected by all countries in the Baltic Sea region. The number of seals has increased, and today conflicts with human fishing activities have re-emerged in an increasing number of areas. As a result, controlled hunting is allowed for grey seals in Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Sweden, ringed seals in Finland and Sweden, and harbour seals in Denmark and Sweden. The highest permissible annual quota among these countries is around 2 000 grey seals, 230 ringed seals and 235 harbour seals combining information from all countries. The reported hunting is often below the quotas (Table 4.6.2).
Incidental by-catch of seals in fishing gear is an additional source of human induced mortality for seals that is not included here (Box 5.4.2), and the levels of illegal hunting are not known.
The Baltic Sea regional recommendation on management principles for the conservation of seals states that there should be no hunting of seal populations below the safe biological level (the so called limit reference level, see Chapter 5.5 Waterbirds), and that hunting of populations above this level is only allowed if the growth rate is positive. These principles are adhered to in the Baltic Sea region at this time.
|Grey seal||224–307 (15–20 % of quota)||201 (41% of quota)|
|Harbour seal||180 (62% of quota)|
|Ringed seals||87 (87% of quota)||81 (77 % of quota)|
Hunting of waterbirds
The legislation for bird hunting is highly variable among countries.
Waterbirds are hunted in some countries, although the timing is regulated, with hunting prohibited during the spring migration and breeding season (EC 2009). For example, in Denmark there is no hunting of waterbirds allowed between 1 February and 31 August.
Southern Baltic Sea countries have a more extensive protection of bird species. For example all sea ducks in Poland are protected, and bird hunting is not permitted within a 3 000 meter strip between the coast and the sea or for 5 000 meters onto land (Polish hunting Law 2004). In effect, ducks (mallard, common teal, common pochard and tufted duck) which can be hunted on inland waters are protected at the coast. A similar legislation is in place in many other countries (Table 4.6.2).
Where hunting is permitted, common game species include common eider, long-tailed duck, common goldeneye, mallard, common teal, Eurasian wigeon and common scoter (Table 4.6.3). The velvet scoter is hunted in Denmark (Asferg 2016) and protected in Sweden. Species hunted only in some countries include goosander, tufted duck, and red-breasted merganser as well as garganey, pintail, shoveler and gadwall. In addition, waterbird populations are hunted elsewhere along their flyways.
In addition to game hunting, the great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), which is considered to cause damages to fish stocks and fisheries, is hunted as part of predator control in some countries. Reports show on average 2 100 shot cormorants per year in Denmark (Asferg 2015), 400–800 per year in Finland (Åland) and around 3 500 in Sweden (HaBiDeS 2017). Some countries have an eradication programme for cormorants, where eggs are sprayed with a substance to prevent them from hatching. Birds are also decimated by other human induced pressures, such as oil spills and incidental by-catch, with unknown total level.
Among the hunted water bird species, common eider, long tailed duck, mallard, goosander and red- breasted merganser are included in the HELCOM Core Indicators, showing below baseline values during the assessment period. The common goldeneye, tufted duck and cormorant are included in the core indicators showing values higher than the baseline years.
The numbers of long-tailed duck have decreased strongly and the wintering population is categorised as endangered on the HELCOM Red List of Birds (HELCOM 2013b), and the same status applies to common eider, common scoter and velvet scoter.
Table 4.6.3. Reports on hunted water birds in Baltic Sea coastal areas, estimated numbers per year during 2011–2016. Hunting of these species does not occur in in coastal and marine areas of Germany, Lithuania and Poland, but some of the species are hunted at adjacent inland waters. An ‘X’ denotes that the species is hunted, but that the number of hunted birds in the Baltic Sea area is not known.
|common eider (Somateria mollissima)||43 000||0||1 000–7 000||2 000|
|long-tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis)||1 400||7||8 000–19 000||40|
|common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)||8 400||79||x||x|
|common teal (Anas crecca)||100 500||1771||x||x|
|mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)||483 500||3783||x||x|
|common scoter (Melanitta nigra)||7 100||1||x||90|
|velvet scoter (Melanitta fusca)||2 700||0||x||0|
|goosander (Mergus merganser)||0||0||x||x|
|tufted duck (Aythya fuligula)||5 300||25||x||x|
|Eurasian wigeon (Anas penelope)||41 000||1019||x||x|
|red-breasted merganser (Mergus serrator)||0||0||x||x|