Mitigating the socioeconomic impacts of declining fishing opportunities

by Eurofish
Jarek Zielinski

Jarek Zielinski has been involved with the advisory councils for the last 17 years and was party to the founding of several of them. This experience will help him in his newish role as chair of the Baltic Sea Advisory Council’s executive committee, where he will have to try and formulate recommendations for the European Commission that are supported by both wings of the advisory council, the fishers and the NGOs.

You have recently been elected chairman of the Baltic Sea Advisory Council. What made you seek the position and what plans do you have for the organisation? What do you hope to achieve during your tenure?

Not so recently…time flies and it’s  been already eight months since I was elected. In fact I was approached by other members of the BSAC, who seemed to note my experience and practical expertise in the EU fisheries sector  and regional  advisory councils. Although I am involved with the BSAC since 2020, as the representative of the Polish Fish Producers Organization Bałtyk, from Kołobrzeg, my experience in this field goes back to 2006. I was involved, as the representative of the Polish fishing industry in the process of establishing the North Sea AC, Pelagic AC, and Long Distance Fishery AC.

Now, to answer your question I need to present the context. The view of the BSAC from the chair’s perspective was that in eighteen years of activity the BSAC is largely fulfilling its role as an advisory council by providing the Commission and the Member States with relevant input  from regional stakeholders in relation to the management of the Baltic Sea fisheries.  There is value created and potential in this organization which is in fact very divided. However, there is also a frustration, across the stakeholder groups, especially about lack of impact  of the BSAC advice and recommendation at EU level. This is demotivating and some members declare that they consider leaving.

In 2020 the BSAC Executive Committee ordered an external evaluation of the BSAC. Information in the evaluation is based on a survey distributed to the member organizations and also to observers. Delivered in 2021 the report presents an interesting overview of this organization and its members. It also contains recommendations to improve the work and organization of the BSAC. It is clear, that there is a potential for elevating the impact of the BSAC, by finding common ground, being proactive and aligning with policy makers. There is also a need for improvements; most notably in building trust and facilitating cooperation between BSAC members.

So, I have clear recommendations for improvements in the organization requested by the members.  Increased dissemination of BSAC recommendations and ultimately the efficiency of the advice, fostering member engagement are the starting point. Members also expect the BSAC not only to tackle core topics such as advice on fish stocks and fishing opportunities. They bring up additional sensitive topics like species interaction, seals and cormorants’ impact on the environment, and new issues such as offshore wind farm development in the Baltic Sea, impact of climate change on fisheries, and socio-economic impact of all of these. The members set these goals. A relevant topic, which I also keep in mind, is  how to better integrate the small-scale fisheries representatives.

Today, this organization does not need a visionary but an efficient, creative and proactive officer who will efficiently maintain the discussion and implement these recommendations based on what is important, not only the suggestions of professional evaluators, but most of all the suggestions and ideas of the BSAC members. And so here I am—with my background and practical experience in project management. I am motivated by the fact that I was unanimously elected by all members of the BSAC, and that cooperation within the management team is based on respect. The combination of enthusiasm and experience offered by the new  BSAC Secretary General Guillaume Carruel and Rapporteur Ewa Milewska also gave me a boost. 

The BSAC executive committee comprises representatives from the fishing sector who are in the majority and representatives from NGOs. The two groups have starkly differing attitudes with regard to certain issues. How do you ensure that the majority does not steamroller the environmental groups and that NGO viewpoints are adequately represented in BSAC recommendations?

There are rules to be followed:  all  Advisory Councils follow the so-called Basic Regulation. The provisionsof this legal act stipulate that recommendations of Advisory Councils should be based on consensus. The BSAC is no different and always aims at finding consensus that is reflected in the recommendations. One might say that half of the job is done already; there is legislation to follow. Special attention has been devoted recently in the  BSAC to this issue which is  relevant for the process of producing the advice and crucial for the quality of  the advice.  The problem has been  evaluated and recommendations for improvement listed. Now it is about implementing them. This is a process though and we work on this. People want to help in improving their organization. This is great value. I am happy about this.

The BSAC also has its own Rules of Procedure to guarantee a fair consultation process for all members. These rules are simple and clear for everyone. One of the first steps taken last year was to launch a focus group on the revision of the Rules of Procedures. This revision is needed to align the BSAC internal procedures with the latest EU regulation and at the same time also aims to answer some concerns raised by members and to ensure continued working in a fair, transparent and efficient way. Together with me, from the industry, the Executive Committee Vice-Chair  and the Ecosystem Based Management Working Group Chair have been elected. Both are from the Other Interest Group and are members of the Management Team. I highly appreciate their engagement which is a great support for me and the Secretary. BSAC has also additional special tools, in use, to help small scale fisheries representatives to attend the meetings and discussion. We have also some new ideas for this, but we have to fit them in the budget which might be reduced by the Commission. We’ll see. Regarding the budget—a review of the finances, and their optimisation, was one of first steps I took upon my election.

The collapse of cod stocks in the Baltic has resulted in some Baltic fishers concentrating on pelagic species, sprat and herring, while others have decommissioned their vessels and pulled out the profession. What long term effects on Baltic fishing fleets do you envisage from the decline in cod fishing opportunities?

Now we touch upon topics, where, as the advisory council  ExCom chair I have to stick to the rule of being impartial, so let me now share the outcome of the discussions within the BSAC. There is a systematic reduction in productivity of the whole Baltic ecosystem, due to factors besides fishing. There may be a need for further adaptation of fishing capacity and the whole structure of the sector.

This is a relevant and difficult issue, taking into account the socio-economic consequences of the current environmental situation in the Baltic.

The decline in  fishing opportunities especially for cod, salmon, and eel but also for pelagic species has had a tremendous effect on fishing fleets, fishers, and communities depending on these emblematic species. It is escalating, especially in the case of the small coastal fishing fleet. The fisheries sector all around the Baltic has been faced with a decision on how to restructure in order to adapt to this situation. The situation is even more complicated for those fleets and fleet segments which have no alternative for fishing outside the Baltic Sea. Of course, permanent cessation is one of the directions.

The ecosystem changes have in turn triggered shifts in the target species. Pelagic species have taken a prominent place both in landing volumes and value. But, in the long term, increasing the number of vessels and fishing effort on the pelagic stocks does not seem to be the right way, neither environmentally nor economically. Stickleback may also play a role in the future of fisheries in the Baltic. Trial fisheries are ongoing in most countries to gain more knowledge on the stock to assess its potential as a new sustainable fishery. Fishers have also renewed their focus on coastal stocks and species with healthy stocks such as flatfish (plaice). New gears are being developed and these new developments need to be supported.

There is a need for a more substantial reflection on socio-economic aspects and other kinds of aid to convert or adapt the sector. Further discussion is needed on subsidies in the context of fishing capacity, engines, and selectivity. The BSAC finds it important to initiate and support the development of new fisheries and fishing methods that meet the need for a selective and optimised fishery. The restoration and conservation of habitats, species, water quality and migration routes also deserve public funding. The fact that there are subsidies which bring the desired target closer should be acknowledged. This reflection should also consider that socio-economic consequences affect not only fishing industry and fishing societies,  but also local fish processors, fish traders, etc.

Several factors are considered to have contributed to the collapse of cod stocks in the Baltic many of which are anthropogenic including fishing pressure, pollution, and habitat destruction. How does the Baltic AC contribute to addressing these issues which could help revive the stocks?

The BSAC’s role is to advise the European Commission and Member States on matters relating to the management of fisheries and the socioeconomic and conservation aspects of fisheries. In that sense, the BSAC annual recommendations on TACs advise on how to adapt fishing pressure to the current state of the stocks while considering socio-economic aspects. In previous years, specific recommendations on the cod stocks have been published.


There needs to be a clear link between setting priorities in fisheries management and analysing the social and economic consequences of decisions taken. The ensuing costs are both economic and social, and these need to be clearly described, accounted for, and included in management decisions. The transparent implementation of Article 17 of the Basic Regulation and funding from the European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) can contribute to the social dimension of fisheries management. In this connection, Producer Organisations also play an important role.

The BSAC closely follows research on the interspecies mechanisms that play an important role in the actual state of the Baltic fish stocks. Interrelations between herring and sprat, predation by cormorants and seals, and seal parasites found commonly in cod are studied by researchers around the Baltic. Experts are regularly invited to BSAC meetings to give presentations as we need to understand better what is at play, and to conclude the advice. The Council continues to underline that fisheries management and science should focus on the overall ecosystem, as well as other factors that are affecting the well-being of certain stocks. Ecosystem, multi-species considerations and food-web interactions must be taken into account in the overall policy orientations. More should be done to provide clearer scientific explanations and input to managers on these mechanisms. ICES and national scientific maritime institutes play a major role here.

Climate change is affecting the environment in the Baltic Sea. Water temperatures are increasing, the sea ice season is becoming shorter, precipitation is increasing, invasive species are spreading, and stratification is becoming more marked. What measures can the BSAC recommend that will assist the fishing sector adapt to these changes?

Ecosystem changes linked to climate change are already felt by fishers and stakeholders around the Baltic.  Any measures will be decided and implemented by the Member States and the European Commission. In this particular area, as chair of the BSAC I am focused on conveying the conclusions of the discussions among experts and stakeholders to the managers and policy makers.  I take as our common goal, within the BSAC, to have a discussion as broad, merit-based, and in-depth as possible so the final recommendations and measures have value. And they have value.  I have no doubts here. As for using these recommendations—a respectful and transparent cooperation with Baltfish High Level Forum seems to be crucial here. We also prioritise the cooperation with HELCOM.

Energy costs have increased several-fold across Europe leading to higher energy bills for all industries. Apart from affecting profitability, what impact has the high cost of fuel had on Baltic fishing fleets? Will it encourage vessel owners to invest in more fuel-efficient engines? Is it motivating shipyards to develop vessels that use renewable sources of energy?

The BSAC Executive Committee puts special attention on the European Commission’s strategy for the energy transition in the EU’s fisheries and aquaculture sector. Generally, the fishing industry is interested in transitioning to greener fuel technology. The BSAC finds it important to initiate and target support towards the development of new fisheries, selective fishing gear, and technology that drives development towards minimising CO2 emissions from fisheries. A discussion on technologies that could help mitigate the effects of climate change and take the green transition to the next level has been launched, which also considers the costs and financial support for these investments. The advice will be based on this discussion.

Remote electronic monitoring (REM ­– cameras onboard fishing vessels) is being piloted in different European countries. Fishermen tend to find it intrusive but with the right incentives some are accepting the technology. What is the feeling in the BSAC about REM?  Do you feel REM could have a role to play in monitoring Baltic fishing vessels?

The BSAC discussed REM and the use of CCTV extensively, at several occasions in 2018-2019-2020 in the wake of the revision of the Control Regulation. Views are quite divided within the members. Fisheries representatives generally support an increase in control by using the tools currently available. They point to the additional burden, implementation issues, and risks of the mandatory use of CCTV. And CCTV systems will be more difficult to use on smaller boats. Some representatives of the OIG support control of the landing obligation by means of CCTV. In case CCTV systems become obligatory, the BSAC notes the need for detailed discussions related to technical and financial side.

The BSAC agrees to privacy concerns related to the use of CCTV systems.

Generally, the BSAC recognises that control and surveillance are of great importance regarding management of the Baltic stocks. The level of control has an obvious impact on the management of the Baltic stocks. This was demonstrated clearly in October 2022, when during the presentation of the Commission’s proposal for the Baltic stocks TACs, for 2023, to the PECH Committee, the Commission explained that problems with control of the landing obligation were factored in the TAC proposals. As result quite a number of TACs were proposed at MSY lower range.

The stakeholders in the Baltic are rising to this challenge and many projects have been initiated and are ongoing to boost transparency and surveillance. For instance, some pelagic fisheries are experimenting on a voluntary basis with fully documented fishing and large scale remote electronic monitoring projects including CCTV on their vessels.

During the joint EFCA-BALTFISH-BSAC workshop held in March 2022, EFCA recognised that compliance with the landing obligation in period 2019-2021 is higher than in the past. Still, the EFCA Baltic Sea Steering Group acknowledged the need for improvement. BSAC has been cooperating actively with EFCA for a number of years and in 2023, cooperation between EFCA and the BSAC will be very close.

Fishers in some Baltic countries are catching invasive species like round goby for export markets, as well as combining fishing with activities for tourists. Others are processing the catch to add more value, while some have even opened restaurants where the catch is served. Do you see this diversification as the way forward for the sector? Do these new activities make the profession more attractive to young people?

Diversification is a needed adaptation for the sector. We have already discussed this in the previous question when it comes to target species for instance. Economic diversification can also be a way for some fishers to stay in the business and enjoy better economic returns. Tourism, direct sales, and restaurants should not be, however, the only way to attract more young people in the job. Modernisation of the vessels, increased comfort on board, and ensuring fair pay are also key aspects that need to be tackled.

You are keen to increase the cooperation between the BSAC and Eurofish. While many countries represented in the BSAC are also members of Eurofish, which areas of interest to the BSAC do you feel Eurofish may be able to contribute to?

Cooperation with Eurofish and its members is paramount. I believe that reaching out to the readers of the magazine, and to the member countries of Eurofish,  is key for BSAC recommendation and work to inform all stakeholders, administrations, and also potential future members of BSAC. In 2023-2024, the BSAC will continue advising on important issues, from fishing opportunities to offshore wind development, but we will also hold workshops on control or the role of predators in the ecosystem with BALTFISH and the European Fisheries Control Agency. Coverage of these events in the Eurofish Magazine may be of outmost importance.

This article was featured in Eurofish Magazine 1 2023

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