Eastern Baltic Sea Cod
Fishery Improvement Project

Last Update: December 2013

Species: Baltic cod (Gadus morhua)

FIP Scope/Scale: stock level

Fishery Location: Russia, European Union
For map see
Stock link
Atlantic cod – Baltic Sea Eastern
Fishery Link
Atlantic cod Baltic Sea Eastern
The Eastern Baltic Cod FIP is industry driven, with Espersen and the Danish Fishermen’s Association playing a leading role. SFP was involved during the initial scoping and initiation phases of the project and continues to play a role in supporting the FIP by providing technical advice. The operation of the FIP is independent from SFP, but details of the fishery can be found on FishSource along with monitoring and evaluation of the improvement project.
The fishery is MSC certified and progress against certification conditions can be accessed via FishSource and the MSC website. The fishery is also tracked via SFP’s Whitefish Seafood Group platform and the annual evaluation of global whitefish supplies.
Four units of Eastern Baltic Sea cod have been MSC certified: DFPO Denmark Eastern Baltic cod certified as sustainable in April 2011, Fiskbranschens Sweden Eastern Baltic cod certified as sustainable in June 2011, Germany Eastern Baltic cod certified in August  2011, and Küstenfischer Nord eG Heiligenhafen Eastern Baltic cod certified as sustainable in October 2011.
Click here for a summary of the previous FIP reports, including a history of progress updates through early 2013.
FIP Contact:  If you would like more information about the FIP or wish to support the FIP, please contact Espersen.
Current Improvement Recommendations:
  • Improve catches and bycatch (including seabirds) reporting
  • Monitor discard prohibitions
  • Support the development of multi-species management plans
In 2002, when SFP started working on the improvement of Eastern Baltic Sea cod, the fishery faced great challenges, including:
  • Adult spawning stock size was estimated to be at the lowest level on record. Estimated abundance of spawners was approximately 25 percent of the minimum target level advised by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).
  • ICES scientists suggested that the stock decline was mainly due to overfishing and recommended a moratorium. The European Union (EU) proposed a gradual reduction in harvests. However, ICES estimate that catches exceeded reported landings by 35 to 45 percent. If correct, this suggested that the EU’s proposed harvest reductions were unlikely to be implemented, and thus ineffective to improve stock status.
  • The ICES estimate of unreported catches was disputed by many in the industry, and the methods used in deriving the estimate (among other important indicators used in management) had not been disclosed.
  • For many years, regulation had been ineffective. The Baltic Sea was under the jurisdiction of both European Union member and non-member states, and fish stocks were shared among bordering countries. An agreement to set total allowable catch (TAC) and allocate a quota system was rejected in 1982. Open access to the fishery lasted until 1988. Until 2004, negotiations on the fishery and its problems occurred multilaterally among the nations within the International Baltic Sea Fishery Commission (IBSFC). When Poland and the Baltic states joined the EU in that year, negotiations became bilateral between the EU and Russia.
  • There have also been significant concerns with habitat and ecosystem sustainability. The Baltic fish community is dominated by cod, herring, and sprat. Their trophic relationships are important factors driving the overall state of fish stocks.
The beginning of the FIP
Elements of the European supply chain sourcing Baltic Sea cod were increasingly concerned at the status and trajectory of the cod stocks and predicted adverse consequences for shore-based economies (e.g., regional/coastal community processing) and employment. Initially lacking an understanding of fisheries management issues, the supply chain took the decision to engage in the fishery and support improvement efforts.
From the start, the role of the supply chain in improvement efforts for Baltic Sea cod has been absolutely critical. FIPs are always more likely to succeed where a core group of engaged purchasers/suppliers exist and can form a structured coalition to push the process forward.
In organizing this FIP, SFP worked separately with producers and suppliers since their interests often diverged. While they converged on the objective of sustainable management, they diverged on the definition of the situation in the fishery and the destination for the improvement efforts.
In this regard, the road forward has been a challenge, with difficulties encountered along the way including the 2006 TAC being set at a level more than three times that advised by ICES. In addition, in 2005, the amount of illegally caught cod reached close to 15,000 metric tons (mt), which was 38 percent above the official landings. Nevertheless, a number of important steps were taken during the first years of this FIP to change fishing practices and regulatory policies, most of them resulting from pressure applied by major suppliers – Espersen in particular.
FIP Objectives:
  • Increase stock size of Eastern Baltic Sea cod
  • Set TACs in line with agreed management plan  
  • Improve the status of the fishery to a level that meets market sustainability requirements
  • Achieve MSC certification  
Progress Update:
After more than a decade of historically low stock levels, Eastern Baltic Sea cod stock is rebounding. Spawning stock biomass (SSB) increased rapidly in recent years, and in 2010 was above any candidate for precautionary biomass reference points. Fishing mortality declined dramatically from 1.51 in 2004 to 0.23 in 2009 and is presently at historically low levels.


East and West Baltic Total Allowable Catches split

EU Long-term management plan agreed. Joint Inspection and Surveillance Scheme for

Baltic Sea cod stocks launched by the Community Fisheries Control Agency (CFCA).
          Catch Documentation Scheme introduced  
FIP formally launched


EU imposes quota return from Poland regarding previous over quota landings. Stock above

MSY level of spawning stock biomass (Bmsy).  Unallocated landings reduced.

The EU quota was set below the 48,600-mt limit determined by the management plan, although the sum of the EU and Russian quotas (49,380 mt) was still slightly above the limit.
DFPO Denmark Eastern Baltic cod fisheryenters MSC assessment


Starting in 2010, the sum of the EU and Russian quotas, although a year on year increase was below the ICES-advised TAC limit.
Unallocated landings, although significant in the past, are estimated to be low due to better fisheries control enforcement. The entry into force of the EU regulation to prevent, deter, and eliminate illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in 2010 is likely to further improve catch reporting.

DFPO Denmark Eastern Baltic cod and Fiskbranschens Sweden Eastern Baltic cod fisheries were MSC certified.
Germany Eastern Baltic cod fishery was MSC certified.
Küstenfischer Nord eG Heiligenhafen Eastern Baltic cod fishery was MSC certified.


MSC conditions on fisheries removals on target and closed for all certified fisheries (March, June, and July).


January – March
MSC conditions for DFPO Denmark Eastern Baltic cod on discarded longline bycatch and demersal trawl habitat impact on target.

July – September
Fiskbranschens Sweden Eastern Baltic cod longline fishery MSC certification is suspended as conditions have not been met.

October  – December
Fiskbranschens Sweden Eastern Baltic cod longline fishery MSC certification is reinstated.