The herring was once considered important for the livelihood of German Baltic Sea fishermen. In the meantime it can hardly be fished. Although there is an encouraging development, patience is still required.
According to one expert, the stock of herring, which was important for German Baltic Sea fisheries in the past, has bottomed out.
This was shown by data for the past year, on the basis of which recommendations for the EU Commission are currently being drawn up, said the head of the Thünen Institute for Baltic Sea Fisheries in Rostock, Christopher Zimmermann, of the German Press Agency. However, it is still too early to lift the ban on fishing for herring in the western Baltic Sea, which applies with exceptions.
One cannot yet speak of a recovery of the stock, said the member of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which advises the EU Commission. But if the development continues, catches could be released again beyond the currently applicable exceptions.
It is difficult to predict when that will happen, possibly in five to seven years. Since 2022, herring may no longer be fished in a targeted manner in the western Baltic Sea – this year too. Exceptions apply to boats under twelve meters in length that fish with gillnets.
Uptrend in inventory
According to Zimmermann, inventory data for the period after the far-reaching ban on fishing came into force is now available for the first time. In addition, in 2022 the catches in the Kattegat and Skagerrak – at the transition between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea – were reduced by 90 percent. The stock had already grown at a low level in 2021.
In the four years before that, the permitted catch volume in the western Baltic Sea had already been reduced by 94 percent. In addition, 2020 was the worst recorded herring year for the time being, also due to the warm spring temperatures. The year 2022 has now confirmed the upward trend of 2021.
Alongside cod, herring was traditionally regarded as one of the bread fish used by German Baltic Sea fishermen and was important for their livelihood. Overfishing, nutrient inputs, especially from agriculture, and climate change are causing problems for the stock. Due to the restrictive fishing regulations, German Baltic Sea fishing has gotten into a crisis. According to Zimmermann, even a recovered population will only be about half as productive as it was in the 1990s because of climate change.
Criticism of plans by the EU Commission
Regarding the possible effects of a terminal for liquefied natural gas planned before or on Rügen, the fishing expert said that the timing of the construction work on the connection pipeline in the Greifswalder Bodden – the nursery of the herring – is important. If this takes place after the spawning season, for example from the end of May, the problem is reduced. As soon as the work crosses the Bodden threshold, there is no longer any danger from the construction work.
Zimmermann said he could only speculate about the effects of the operation of a possible terminal – such as heat or noise. However, it could be better for the herring to set up a terminal far outside or in the port of Mukran, for example.
The expert expressed clear criticism of the EU Commission’s plans to ban fishing with bottom trawls – i.e. nets that touch the seabed – in all protected areas by 2030 at the latest. “The scientific basis for this is thin.” For example, the ban would also apply in bird sanctuaries, although birds are not threatened by bottom trawls.
The use of such nets is also justifiable on muddy ground, for example. If not all people became vegetarian, one would also have to rely on this fishery for the production of food. In general, fishing has a lower impact on the climate and biodiversity than meat production on land.