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Researchers at SLU comment on ICES advice for fisheries in the Baltic Sea

Published: 31 May 2024
Herring and sprat

On 31 May, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) published its scientific advice for next year's fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea. The Council recommends a continued ban on cod fishing in the eastern Baltic Sea. For herring, the advice from ICES is that fishing can increase in the Baltic Proper, while the fishing for sprat in the Baltic Sea should decrease. For herring in the Gulf of Bothnia, ICES will not release catch advice until September.

The cod in the Baltic Sea is divided into two different stocks: the eastern and the western. For the eastern stock, a zero quota has been recommended since 2020. For the western cod stock, only 24 tonnes were recommended for commercial and recreational fisheries in total for 2024, and this biennial advice also applies to 2025.

"The cod is in trouble and is still below biologically safe limits. It should not be fished at all. Despite several years of bans on targeted fishing on the eastern stock, we unfortunately see no recovery. There is not a simple explanation for why the situation is the way it is, but there are a number of factors, including previous heavy fishing pressure and changes in the ecosystem that affect the cod's biology," says Joakim Hjelm, researcher at the Department of Aquatic Resources (SLU Aqua) and member of the ICES working group WGBFAS, which works with advice for the Baltic Sea.

Postponed advice for Baltic herring in the Gulf of Bothnia

For herring, ICES now provides advice for two management areas/stocks in the Baltic Sea: the Baltic Proper and the Gulf of Riga. Advice for Baltic herring in the Gulf of Bothnia will not be published until September, because the working group believes that the reference points used to assess the status of the stock need to be revised.

"ICES will evaluate the reference points during the summer and early autumn to update them based on the current situation and knowledge about the stock," says David Gilljam, researcher at the Department of Aquatic Resources (SLU Aqua) and also a member of the ICES working group WGBFAS.

In the Gulf of Riga, ICES recommends that herring fishing can be increased by 9% compared to the 2024 advice.

Herring fishing in the Baltic Proper may increase

In the Baltic Proper, ICES estimates that the catch opportunities (quotas) can be increased by 139 percent compared to the advice for 2024. Over the past three years, the catch advice from ICES has varied between 52 549 tonnes and 95 643 tonnes. The catch advice for 2025 is 125 344 tonnes, and it is thus back at roughly the same levels as in 2021.

“The stock assessment shows that the year-class of herring born in 2022 is relatively strong and thus contributes to an increased biomass, and to the possibility of increased fishing, in 2025. That is, more young herring have survived to an older age. The low fishing pressure in recent years has saved herring also from older year classes that have had the chance to grow and reproduce and contribute to an increased biomass," says Mikaela Bergenius Nord, researcher at the Department of Aquatic Resources (SLU Aqua) and also a member of the ICES working group WGBFAS, which works with advice for the Baltic Sea.

The size of an age group is affected by many different factors, such as the environment, salinity and temperature of the water, availability of food and predation.

“Although the stock's biomass has increased slightly over the past year, it is still at a relatively low level in 2024. Personally, I would have liked to have seen a more precautionary advice to let the stock recover to a higher biomass level before allowing increased catches," says Mikaela Bergenius Nord.

Reduced fishing for sprat

For sprat, ICES recommends that the catch opportunities should be reduced by 32%. This is because the stock has been fished too hard and juvenile fish production in recent years has been low, which has led to a reduction in biomass.

The advice for both the western and eastern stocks of plaice in the Baltic Sea is that catches can increase, by 16% and 18%  respectively, as the fishery is considered to be sustainable in the long term.

ICES' scientific advice will now be taken into account by the European Commission, which is preparing proposals for quotas. After negotiations between the EU member states, the countries' ministers will then decide on the 2025 quotas in October.

Less large herring in the archipelago

The fact that ICES advises on increased fishing for herring in the Baltic Proper, while fishermen along the coast are sounding the alarm about poor catches, may seem contradictory. Many coastal fishermen and recreational fishermen have noticed that catches have decreased sharply in recent years. This is due to the decreasing number of individual fish, but also because of the decreasing proportion of large herring in the stocks. Since coastal and recreational fishing is aimed entirely at large herring, catches have decreased sharply, despite that there is still relatively large amounts of (but small in size) herring. For more information about this problem, we refer to our FAQ SLU answers questions about herring.

See ICES latest advice for the Baltic stocks


Mikaela Bergenius Nord (on advice in the Baltic Proper)

David Gilljam (on advice for herring in the Gulf of Bothnia)

Joakim Hjelm (on advice for cod in the Baltic Sea)

(For detailed contacts, see below)


Mikaela Bergenius, Researcher
Department of Aquatic Resources, Institute of Marine Research, SLU, +46 10 478 41 15

Joakim Hjelm, Researcher
Department of Aquatic Resources, Institute of Marine Research, SLU, +46 10 478 40 64