Baltic fishers at the LIFE workshop

The Baltic is a small and crowded sea. Far from Europe’s busiest fishing grounds, not as salty, and surrounded by different countries that all want to take advantage of its vital sources of income for the great amount of fishermen and local societies that depend on them. It can also provide to the market the best quality fish. But in order to provide that, it needs healthy fish stocks and fishermen who understand the nature of the waters and how to fish in a responsible, sustainable way – not the businessmen seeing only short term incomes. There is no space in the Baltic for industrial, destructive fishing.

For decades, low impact fishermen were not heard at all, despite making up the majority of the Baltic fishing community. Until now, their focus had been fishing, rather than lobbying or politics – but the current situation requires them to change that. Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE) have the potential to change the future of the fishery and, through that, the future of the seas.

However, without the support of the region’s fishing community, LIFE cannot do much about the Baltic. That’s why low impact fishermen have to unite, move past internal quarrels and act together. For that reason, fishers from Poland, Germany, Sweden, and Denmark came together and met in Ustka, Poland, over the weekend to talk, to share experiences and best practices, identify their common challenges – and find the solutions.

Baltic fishers at the LIFE workshop

Whenever I listen to fishers from different regions, there is something that strikes me: irrespective of which region the fishermen come from, they always have the same concern: “We need a change, otherwise we will disappear. National governments are doing nothing to support us and the fish stocks are in bad condition. How are we supposed to survive?” But there is another thing that strikes me (or rather, worries me): the degree of despondency of the fishing community. So often marginalised, the tendency for them now is to see only obstacles and problems – so big that solutions can seem to be out of reach.

Baltic fishers at the LIFE workshop

Luckily, during the weekend meeting there were a lot of positive examples presented concerning political action or market initiatives, inspiring hope that change is possible after all. I am confident that they will find the strength to fight for their rights. Fishing communities in the Baltic are finally demanding governments do what they are obliged to do: for example to allocate individual fishing quotas according to Article 17 of the Common Fisheries Policy, which says that it should be done using environmental, social and economic criteria. And those fishers know what needs to change. First of all, preferable access to resources should be given to those who fish in the most sustainable way. Destructive fishing practices like fishmeal fisheries should be banned in the Baltic, and the coastal area should be prohibited for bottom trawling.

LIFE gives hope. I hope that fishers in the region will use this opportunity and really start to act together towards the sustainable future of the small sale fishery in the Baltic Sea. As Katarzyna, who represented LIFE in Poland, clearly stressed during her passionate speech: all we want is to be able to fish: quality fish and not quantity.

Magdalena Figura is an Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace Poland.