Cuts to Baltic cod quota puts squeeze on domestic supply

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cent, Aquaculture, European union, Eu

The European Commission this week proposed cutting quotas on cod,
salmon and other Baltic Sea species, in some cases by up to 20 per
cent.

The cuts, if approved by the bloc's legislators, with further increase the dependence of EU food processors on foreign supplies. It could also result in more production coming from aquaculture rather than wild fish stocks as governments face up to the fact that the world's oceans are being depleted at unsubstainable rates.

Proposed quota reductions for this year in both the Atlantic and Mediterranean fishing areas will make processors even more dependent on imports.

The EU already has one of the world's highest trade deficits in fish and fishery products. The poor state of certain EU fishery stocks and the reduction in annual catch quotas make the EU's processing sector more and more dependent on imports from third countries for supplies.

The cuts in the 2007 quotas for the Baltic Sea are part of a plan by the European Commission's programme to allow depleted stocks to regain some ground.

In making the proposal the Commission is going against the recommendation by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which has called for a complete closure of the eastern cod fishery until a long-term management plan has been adopted and has come into force.

Saying that such a drastic closure would undermine the fishery sectors in many countries, the Commission has proposed to gradually reduce quotas by 15 per cent over a period of years. On 24 July, the Commission adopted a multi-annual plan to rebuild and maintain cod stocks in the Baltic Sea. The Commission expects that the plan will come into force next year.

An overall increase is, however, proposed in herring and sprat catches and no change on the quota for plaice. The proposal is due to be discussed at the Fisheries Council meeting in October.

The proposed multi-annual plan for Baltic cod, proposed last July, will combine staged reductions in fishing mortality with increases in closed periods, and limits to the year-on-year variation in total allowable catches (TACs).

The proposed TAC for eastern cod has been set at 38,522 tonnes, compared with 45,339 tonnes this year. For western cod the TAC has been set at 24,140 tonnes, compared to 28,400 tonnes in 2006.

The proposed TAC for salmon in the main Baltic basin is reduced to 361,001 individual fish in 2007, compared to 451,260 this year.

The central Baltic herring stock shows encouraging signs of health, and the Commission therefore proposes to raise the TAC by 15 per cent to 133, 218 tonnes next year from the current 115,842 tonnes.

The Commission has also discussed the TACs and quotas and associated conditions with Russia within the framework of their new bilateral fisheries agreement expected to enter into force in the course of 2007.

The agreement is due to replace the International Baltic Sea Fisheries Commission (IBSFC) from which the EU withdrew as of the end of 2005, following the accession of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to the EU.

In 2004, EU imports of fish and fishery products totaled €12 billion while exports totaled €2 billion, a trade deficit of €10 billion. In 2004, 82 per cent of total EU fish imports were non-processed fishery products. Processed products classified as "fish fillets and other fish meat" account for 25 per cent of total EU fish imports.

The UK is the largest fish processor in the EU, followed by France, Spain and Germany. France is a major seafood consumer and a net importer of many seafood products, including salmon, shellfish, surimi, and a variety of whitefish. France is the largest market for salmon, scallops in Europe.

France's largest supplier is other EU countries, followed by Madagascar and the US. The US is the country's largest supplier of lobster and surimi products.

Germany sources only 25 per cent of its unprocessed fish domestically. German imports of fish and fishery products in 2004 totaled 774,095 tonnes, valued at €2.12 billion. About 40 per cent of the country's imports originated from other EU countries, with third countries accounting for the remaining 60 per cent.

Norway is a major fishery product exporter, with seafood ranking as the country's third largest segment. In 2004, the value of Norwegian seafood exports amounted to $4.2 billion, an increase of 7.6 per cent from 2003. In volume, fishery product exports amounted to 1.9 million tonnes.

This year the EU began imposing tougher new quotas on fishing. The measures include a a 10 per cent reduction and a ban on the use of gillnets in the northern part of the western Atlantic waters.

The EU also imposed more restraints on catches designed to protect the bloc's Mediterranean stocks. The new restrictions, which include a ban on deep-water trawling in some areas, will affect fishing fleets from Spain, France, Greece and Italy.

A call last year by the ICES for cutbacks on allowable fish catches or for a complete halt for some key species in the northeast Atlantic is pushing the Commission toward more stringent limits on the sector. However political pressure has meant compromises with the various member states.

The ICES released a report in October calling for a complete overhaul of deep-sea fisheries in the north east Atlantic, which accounts for 60 per cent of the EU's production.

The ICES annual assessment is used by the European Commission in recommending levels in the annual quota negotiations. The ICES recommends that all existing deep-sea fisheries should be cutback to low levels until they can demonstrate that they are sustainable.

Aquaculture represents 17 per cent of total production in the EU.

Overall worldwide fishery production continuous to increase, but at lower growth rates than some years before, the Food and Agriculture Organisation reported. With wild fish stocks increasingly being fully fished or overfished, the growth is mainly due to aquaculture production, which has grown at an average rate of nine per cent since 1970, while wild capture production remained relatively stable at values around 90 million tonnes since the nineties.

Fish and fishery products are the most internationally traded foodstuffs in the world. About 38 per cent of the world fish by live weight is traded internationally. In value terms, about 50 per cent of the trade originates in developing countries, while almost 80 per cent of fish imports are destined to the US, EU and Japan markets.

Nearly half the fish currently consumed as food worldwide are raised on fish farms rather than caught in the wild, the FAO stated in the report. Aquaculture now provides 43 per cent of the fish consumed by humans, compared to just nine per cent in 1980. Commercial aquaculture companies now provide

About 45.5m tonnes of farmed fish, worth $63 billion, is eaten worldwide each year. Meanwhile levels of captures of fish in the wild have remained roughly stable since the mid-1980s, hovering at around 90 to 93 million tonnes annually. Of the wild fish caught about 60 million tonnes is destined for human consumption.

Since there is little chance of any significant increases in catches beyond these levels, companies are going to have to use more farmed fish to meet any supply shortfall, the FAO says.

Globally, consumer demand for fish continues to climb, especially in affluent, developed nations, which in 2004 imported 33 million tonnes of fish worth about $61 billion.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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