Baltic Sea herring stocks are notoriously challenging to manage, having fallen for many years in spite of continued scientific advice to tighten allowable catches. Herring stocks are part of a broader Baltic ecosystem that is in trouble for reasons beyond overfishing but which interfere with herring management at local or national levels.
Estonian authorities and fishermen are frustrated by the worsening state of herring populations within Estonian waters, a decline that continues despite the fact the industry closely adheres to European Commission catch allocations. A further one-fifth reduction this year in the Commission’s allocation to Estonia only aggravates this frustration. The nation’s fishermen and fishery managers argue that the problem is the herring in the so-called red zone of the Baltic Sea, beyond Estonian territory, which is in a bad shape, but which interacts with herring in Estonian waters. Estonian fishermen should not be punished, they argue, for poor ecosystem conditions elsewhere in the Baltic.
The vital role that Baltic herring plays in Estonian culture dates back for millennia; but today a large chunk of Baltic herring goes to fish farms in Norway and elsewhere. Estonians understandably object to having to pay for problems caused by other industries in other countries. However, the nation’s fishermen and managers are taking a wait-and-see approach to Commission decisions on how to balance the overall Baltic herring mismanagement with spill-over impacts on local fisheries.