The European Commission issued a ban on cod fishing in the Eastern Baltic on 23 July 2019. In response to a call from scientists and environmental organizations. The ban was only to last until 31 December 2019, but was extended until 2020 with the publication of further studies. What led the EU to make this decision and is this case unique?
Cod has been a very popular commodity for more than 1,200 years, when it was largely fished by the Vikings. Over the years, it has become even more important and has been the subject of countless disputes and skirmishes, such as after 1763 between the United Kingdom and France or during the second half of the 20th century between the United Kingdom and Iceland during the so-called Cod Wars.
In the second half of the 20th century, the maximum amount of cod caught also began to be regulated in various fishing areas. The reason was the imminent danger of the population collapsing due to overfishing. It occurred as early as 1992 on the east coast of Canada and the United States. Extreme fishing has reduced cod stocks in the area to 1% of its original population in just 15 years. The result has been the permanent loss of more than 37,000 jobs in the fishing industry on the east coast of Canada and the United States. Even in 28 years, the cod population in the area has not completely recovered. Overfishing was made possible mainly by modern technologies such as trawls, navigation and sonar, which made it easy for boats to find fish and divert huge quantities at once. In addition, trawls have caught many unusable fish, seriously disturbing the local ecosystem.
However, the European Commission's decision to ban cod fishing is no big surprise. In recent years, the maximum possible annual limit of cod caught has been steadily reduced from 65,934 tonnes in 2014 to 24,112 tonnes in 2019. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, on which the European Commission draws, has long called for strict regulation of fishing in the Baltic Sea because of the risk of collapse, which could have as bad an impact on the region as the collapse of fisheries in east coast of Canada. Its recommendation for 2021 is to extend the ban on cod fishing in the area.
Studies have found that it is not just overfishing that is behind the declining cod stocks in the Baltic Sea. Other effects include climate change and pollution, which cause lower oxygen content in the water, higher water temperatures and an increased incidence of cod parasites. Adults are also significantly smaller than a few decades ago. Due to all these problems, there is a real risk of the complete extinction of cod in the Baltic Sea.