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Brexit negotiations have been slowly and not without tensions since the start of the year as both the UK and the European Union have yet to budge on key red lines on fisheries. The British Government has refused to give into Brussels’ demands for continued access to UK waters past the end of the transition period. But a new major crises facing Baltic countries could strengthen Michel Barnier’s resolve to secure an agreement on fishing with the UK.
Stefan Neuenfeldt from National Institute of Aquatic Resources noted new research had shown Baltic cod stocks are depleting because of a series of concurring factors and efforts may need to focus on reconolisation before fishermen are allowed to return to their fishing areas.
The senior researcher told Euronews: “Basically, nature is against cod for the time being. And I do not see that that is going to change in the next decade.
“That’s not good news for fishermen relying on cod. All we can do is preserve the cod, the places where nature is in its favour.
“And then we can see too, if conditions are getting better, that these preserved areas are the source for recolonisation of the areas which are so far basically uninhabitable for cod because they are too warm or because there’s not enough oxygen.”
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The Head of Section for Monitoring and Data at DTU Aqua, Marie Storr-Poulsen, noted studies on cod had shown the catch had increasingly grown smaller compared to older stock, adding to the struggle of local fishermen.
Storr-Poulsen said: “They are getting thinner. And what is of large concern for us is that they are having their first maturity — they’re spawning — in a smaller and smaller size compared to what we saw in the beginning of the 90s.
“Normally if we were only looking at the size of the cod, we would expect it would be much younger, but we can actually see that for cod above 30, 35 centimetre, that they have decreased the growth by nearly more than 50 percent compared to what we have seen in earlier years”
Polish fishermen and thrawlers have been heavily relying on cod from the Baltic for their business, and locals have warned the ongoing fishing crisis would be catastrophic when paired up with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Bartłomiej Gościniak, the head of the Kołobrzeg Fishermen Association, said: “What frightens us the most is that by the time things return to normal, we will no longer have any workers left able to process Baltic cod.
“With distribution chains broken, we won’t be able to sell our product.
“Small shipyards that service the entire fishing fleet will shut down, and we’ll have trouble repairing nets, as all the net makers will be gone. So even here, at our local market, instead of Baltic cod we’ll only have cod from the Atlantic.”
With Baltic EU countries like Poland, Denmark, Sweden and Germany facing a potential loss in cod catches, it is expected these countries will remain committed to securing access to UK waters.
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While Polish boats have limited access to Uk waters, a new report from Greenpeace found vessels from Poland joined Dutch and Russian boats to spend 2963 hours fishing in UK Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in 2019.
MPAs were created to protect vulnerable ecosystems and marine life through the ban of supertrawler activities which have been widely blamed for the deaths of large numbers of porpoises.
Michel Barnier earlier this week confirmed he will not agree to negotiating Britain’s latest proposal on fisheries after France accused the UK of having “unrealistic” expectations.
UK negotiator David Frost warned there has been “little progress” during trade negotiations with the Frenchman due to key differences on fisheries policy and state aid rules.
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