Becoming a player in European fisheries

18 Dec 2006

Eskil Erlandsson, Swedish Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries

World Fishing: What are your most important projects and issues in your new role?

Eskil Erlandsson: When it comes to fisheries in the European context I would like to be more influential than the previous government, and be more of a 'player'. It is very important to me that we re-establish our influence in this respect. I would like to continue a strict conservation policy, but to get more results out of this policy.

WF: What are the strengths of the Swedish fisheries industry?

EE: The strength is that the capacity now seems to be more in balance with the resources available. Another strength is that the fishery is flexible – we have many fishing grounds. We have the Baltic Sea which is the main fishing area for Swedish fishermen. We also have the Skagerak/Kattegat and the North Sea, so there are many possibilities for Swedish fishermen.

WF: And the weaknesses?

EE: The main weakness is the cod situation. The cod in the Baltic Sea is a very important species for Sweden, accounting, on average, for around 25% of the total income of Swedish fishermen. The stock situation for cod in the Baltic Sea has been, and still is, very bad, so that is a problem for our fishermen. It is especially affecting the small-scale coastal fishermen as they have fewer alternatives. They are based on the Swedish east and south coasts and mainly fish in the Baltic. They don't have the option to go to other fishing grounds like the bigger vessels. This is, thus, a special problem for the small scale fishery, but also for the small-scale processing industry along the coast.

WF: What is the state of Swedish fish stocks?

EE: There are very few 'real' Swedish stocks – almost all of the stocks are shared with other countries. As I previously mentioned, the main problem for the stocks is the cod situation, in the North Sea, but especially in the Baltic. Eel is also important for the small coastal fisheries in the Baltic and the stock is very bad at the moment. Then, of course, for some of the pelagic stocks, such as sprat and herring, the situation is much better. The same goes for shellfish – prawns and Norway lobster, which are also important for Swedish fishermen.

WF: Is illegal fishing a problem for Sweden's fisheries today?

EE: Yes it is and it is in fact one of the main problems for the cod fishery in the Baltic Sea. The scientists from International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) are estimating the illegal fishery to be about 45% of the TAC level. This badly affects both the stock situation and the fisherman fishing cod legally in the Baltic Sea. This has been the case for a number of years now and seems to be a very difficult problem to come to terms with, as we share waters with so many countries around the Baltic Sea.

WF: What are you doing to combat this?

EE: We would like to make the regulations such as banned periods and so on more similar for all member states in the Baltic Sea and thereby more or less covering the same periods which would make the fishery easier to control. This is unfortunately still not the case at the moment, but we are working on it and believe that it will be one way of combating illegal fishing.

We are also strongly supporting a conference on illegal fishery in the Baltic Sea that will take place next March on a ministerial level.

We also want the Commission and especially the new Control Agency to do more. We want the Agency to make illegal fishing in the Baltic Sea a priority and to coordinate measures to tackle the issue.

WF: Which countries today are Sweden's 'fishing' allies?

EE: There are no special allies, but some kind of informal cooperation between certain member states started during the negotiations on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2001. We belonged to a group that could be called friends of the fish, while other member states belonged to a group called friends of the fisheries. Our group, with member states such as Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark and the UK, were more concerned with conserving the stocks than the other group that were more concerned with socio-economic issues.

WF: The FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) recently announced that 43% of fish consumed by humans comes from aquaculture – what role will aquaculture play in the future of Sweden?

EE: Unfortunately aquaculture in Sweden is rather small, especially relative to our neighbours. I think one reason for this is the competition from Norway, producing salmon. The main species for aquaculture in Sweden is rainbow trout, and there is strong competition between rainbow trout and Norwegian farmed salmon on the market, so it has been made very difficult to compete with the Norwegians.

We also have a small production of mussels, with favourable prospects, and of small specialities such as arctic char.

We also apply very strict environmental standards for aquaculture, which we are trying to 'modernise' in order to stimulate an increase in aquaculture and my goal is to strongly promote the growth of this important industry.

WF: What about other environmental factors (global warming etc.)?

EE: They are very important and environmental questions are very high on the agenda for the new government. I belong to the Centre Party, as does the Environment Minister, and environmental concerns are very important to my Party.

Concerning global warming, we will take all possible measures that are available at present, but we still do not know how global warming will affect the fisheries. We only know that there will be some consequences, but still no details.

WF: How will Sweden approach the next round of quota negotiations in the EU?

EE: It is very important for Sweden that we follow, as closely as possible, the scientific advice from ICES and that we stick to the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy, especially the precautionary and eco-system approach. Also vital is that the management plans and reconstruction plans for fish stocks are followed by the EU.

WF: What are your views on the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)?

EE: We strongly support the reform of the CFP and do not want it to be eroded by other policy measures. We must also continue our work for a fishing fleet that is more in balance with available resources and we should limit economic support for the fleets to mainly scrapping. Support should instead be concentrated on reconstruction of the fishing sector. We are also strongly in favour of more stakeholder involvement in the CFP, such as the RACs.

WF: What are your thoughts on the recent ICES report?

EE: We see the report as confirmation that not stringent enough measures have been taken to conserve certain stocks, especially cod. It is important that when it comes to deciding the quotas for next year we closely follow the scientific advice.

However, you can also see more positive recommendations for some stocks, especially pelagic stocks, that show that when you follow management plans, you get a positive results.