Fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2021: improving long-term sustainability of stocks

The Commission today adopted its proposal for fishing opportunities for 2021 for the Baltic Sea.

Based on the latest available scientific advice and in order to improve long-term sustainability of fish stocks, the Commission proposes to increase fishing opportunities for herring in the Gulf of Riga and main basin salmon, whilst maintaining the current levels for herring in the Gulf of Bothnia, sprat and plaice. The Commission proposes to decrease fishing opportunities for the remaining stocks covered by the proposal.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said: “Multiple factors influence the state of fish stocks in the Baltic sea. Fisheries is one, but factors like marine pollution or climate change are seriously affecting the health of the stocks. The long-term sustainability of the Baltic is not a choice but an imperative. We are adopting today a realistic proposal, which I am convinced will work for both fishers and fish. I look forward to working with the Member States and other stakeholders in the Baltic. As the pressures on Baltic fish stocks cannot be addressed through fisheries policy alone, I have taken the initiative to convene a Ministerial Conference of all EU Baltic states to address all factors comprehensively to ensure a long term future for the Baltic.”

The proposed total allowable catches (TAC) are based on scientific advice from the International Council on the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and follow the Baltic multiannual management plan adopted in 2016 by the European Parliament and the Council.

In recent years, EU’s fishermen and women, industry and public authorities have made important efforts to rebuild  fish-stocks in the Baltic Sea. Where complete scientific advice is available, prior decisions on the Baltic fishing opportunities had succeeded in setting fishing opportunities in line with the principle of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for seven out of eight stocks, covering 95% of fish landings in volume. However, in 2019 scientists discovered that the situation was less stable than previously estimated. Decisive action is, therefore, necessary to restore all stocks and to ensure that they grow to or remain at sustainable levels, in line with the MSY.

The Council will now examine the Commission’s proposal in view of adopting it during a Ministerial meeting on 19-20 October.


For eastern Cod, scientists discovered in 2019 that the stock size had decreased substantially and had been below the safe biological limits for some time. Given the urgency of the matter, the Commission prohibited the fishing of cod for the second half of 2019, in the areas with the greatest presence of eastern Baltic cod. For 2020, upon the Commission’s proposal, the Council substantially reduced the TAC, limited its use to by-catches only, extended the existing spawning closure period in time and scope, and banned recreational fishing in areas where eastern Baltic cod is most present. As the situation of the stock has not improved, the Commission proposes, based on scientific advice, to reduce the by-catch TAC by 70% and to maintain all the accompanying measures.

Western Baltic Cod has been at very low levels for several years. In 2018, indications showed an increasing stock size. Unfortunately, since then, the stock size has been revised downwards every year and remains below healthy levels. Therefore, the Commission proposes to reduce the total allowable catches by 11% and to maintain all the accompanying measures adopted for 2020. These measures are a spawning closure period in the entire area and a limit for recreational fishermen of five specimens per day and two specimens during the closure period. Moreover, in the deeper waters of the eastern part, the TAC use is limited to by-catches and recreational fishing is forbidden. These measures in the eastern part are necessary because of the mixed presence of both western and eastern Baltic cod and the exceptionally bad condition of the eastern stock.


The stock size of western herring remains below safe biological limits. The Commission, therefore, proposes to reduce the total allowable catches by 50%. For central herring, the Commission proposes a reduction of 36% in line with the ICES advice, because the stock size has dropped below healthy levels. In line with the ICES advice, the Commission proposes to maintain the TAC level for the Gulf of Bothnia, while the situation for Riga herring allows for an increase of the TAC by 15%.


While the ICES advice would allow for an increase, the Commission proposes prudence. It proposes maintaining the TAC level unchanged in order to protect the cod stocks, which are in poor condition, because cod is an unavoidable by-catch in plaice fisheries.


Similarly to plaice, the ICES advice for sprat would allow for an increase. The Commission advises prudence and proposes to maintain the TAC level unchanged. This is because sprat and herring are caught in mixed fisheries and the TAC for central Baltic herring has to be decreased significantly. Moreover, sprat is a prey species for starving cod, which is not in a good condition.


ICES estimates that previous issues with substantial misreporting of salmon catches in the main basin has ended. Therefore, in line with the ICES advice, the Commission proposes to increase the TAC by 9%. However, based on the ICES advice, the Commission proposes to reduce the fishing levels for the Gulf of Finland by 10%.

A detailed table is available below.


The fishing opportunities proposal is part of the European Union’s approach to adjust the levels of fishing to long-term sustainability targets, or maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2020 as agreed by the Council and the European Parliament in the Common Fisheries Policy. The Commission’s proposal is also in line with the policy intentions expressed in the Commission’s Communication “Towards more sustainable fishing in the EU: state of play and orientations for 2021” and with the Multiannual Plan for the management of cod, herring and sprat in the Baltic Sea.

More information

Proposal for a Council Regulation fixing for 2021 the fishing opportunities for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks applicable in the Baltic Sea

Annex to the Proposal for a Council Regulation fixing for 2021 the fishing opportunities for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks applicable in the Baltic Sea

Questions & Answers on Fishing Opportunities in the Baltic Sea in 2021

Table: Overview of TAC changes 2020-2021 (figures in tones except for salmon, which is in number of pieces)

Stock and
ICES fishing zone; subdivision
Council agreement (in tonnes & % change from 2019 TAC)Commission proposal
(in tonnes & % change from 2020 TAC)
Western Cod 22-243,806 (-60%)3,395 (-11%)
Eastern Cod 25-322,000 (-92%)595 (-70%)
Western Herring 22-243,150 (-65%)1,575 (-50%)
Bothnian Herring 30-3165,018 (-27%)65,018 (0%)
Riga Herring 28.134,445 (+11%)39,446 (+15%)
Central Herring 25-27, 28.2, 29, 32153,384 (-10%)97,551 (-36%)
Sprat 22-32210,147 (-22%)210,147 (0%)
Plaice 22-326,894 (-32%)6,894 (0%)
Main Basin Salmon 22-3186,575 (-5%)94,496 (+9%)
Gulf of Finland Salmon 329,703 (0%)8,714 (-10%)