Climate change and overfishing are affecting the oceans. Now the use of bottom trawls, which are important for shrimp fishermen, could be restricted. There is a ray of hope for Germany’s shrimp fishermen.
In the dispute over EU plans to ban bottom trawling in protected areas, Federal Fisheries Minister Cem Özdemir is backing shrimp fishermen. “Scientific findings show that shrimp fishing is gentler on the seabed than other bottom trawl fisheries,” said the Greens politician to the German Press Agency.
With the project at EU level, the pressure on German fisheries increases further. It has faced a number of problems over the past few years. For example, herring stocks, which are particularly important for Baltic Sea fishermen, can hardly be caught anymore. 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.
Özdemir: “Blanket bans lead to a dead end”
It doesn’t have to get that far for German shrimp fishermen. Özdemir is campaigning against a general ban on bottom trawls. Because the comparatively light nets of the shrimp fishermen are used on finer ground, so that the seabed and the species found there recover faster than, for example, when fishing for flatfish. “General bans lead to a dead end from which the shrimp fishermen can’t get out,” stressed Özdemir. According to the 57-year-old, the environmental impact of the different fisheries must be considered in a differentiated manner.
The EU Commission recently presented an action plan for more sustainable fishing. Accordingly, fishing with bottom trawls – i.e. nets that touch the seabed – should be prohibited in protected areas by 2030 at the latest. The first measures should therefore already be in place by the end of March 2024. On the other hand, there was great resistance in Germany. The proposals of the EU Commission are not new legislative projects. When asked, the commission emphasized: “There is no automatic or complete ban on bottom fishing that would come into force in March 2024.”
A glimmer of hope on the Baltic Sea
With a view of the Baltic Sea, there is also a glimmer of hope for fishermen and women. According to one expert, the herring stock has bottomed out. This was shown by data for the past year, on the basis of which recommendations for the EU Commission would be developed, said the head of the Thünen Institute for Baltic Sea Fisheries in Rostock, Christopher Zimmermann, of the dpa. 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. 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.
But it is also clear that the seas must recover so that fishing on a larger scale can be sustained in the future. That is why the Commission and Minister of Agriculture Özdemir agree that they should be better protected. “The North and Baltic Seas are in poor environmental condition – there is no mistake,” Özdemir told dpa. Efforts to promote sustainable fisheries need to be stepped up, including greener bottom trawl rules. The Commission stressed: “Many fishermen depend on an intact seabed, which unfortunately continues to deteriorate across Europe.”