UPDATE | Denmark will propose a moratorium on cod-fishing in the eastern Baltic. It will take more than that to stop the decline, fishermen warn
In Denmark, a traditional New Year’s Eve meal features fresh cod as the main dish. As the number of cod in the Baltic Sea has declined, keeping the tradition alive has become increasingly costly. This year, even the die-hards may find themselves forced to find something else to feast on.
On 25 April, Eva Kjer Hansen, the fisheries minister, announced that she would ask other countries in the region to cut this year’s cod quota by 70%, effective immediately.
Ms Hansen’s proposal would end cod fishing for the rest of the year. That is as drastic as it sounds, but it is worth noting that the season is over until December. Moreover, it would still be permitted to land cod as a by-catch, though it is only a matter of time before an end is put to that, too: biologists are likely to recommend that no cod be fished in 2020 at all.
Overfishing is the main culprit: the 2019 quota exceeded biologists’ recommendations by nearly half, but fishermen, who encourage the measure, warn the situation will only get worse unless other problems are addressed. Poor water quality is one, but the real problem, they say, is a growing population of grey seal.
Ms Hansen has said she is inclined to agree with them, and the science appears to back the claims up.
Population surveys find that, over the past two decades, the grey-seal population in the Baltic has more than doubled. Today, there are more than 35,000 of them, eating an estimated 50,000 tonnes of cod annually. That is more is more than three times the amount biologists say should be caught be fishermen, and more than double what lawmakers permit fishermen to catch.
Likewise, as cod have become fewer, they have also become smaller. Several reasons have been suggested for this, including overfishing and water quality, but the development coincides with the arrival of the grey seal, and there is evidence to show that the stunted growth is caused by a parasite that is known to be passed on by seals.
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