Over recent decades, the rapid growth of seal and cormorant populations have caused substantial challenges to coastal small-scale fisheries in the Baltic. Seals and cormorants are considered one of the major threats to the profitability of fisheries sectors in the region, alongside other factors such as the increasing operational costs, declining stocks and distortions in the market caused by the increased seafood imports.
In 2017, the South Finland FLAG initiated a transnational cooperation project together with 13 other Baltic FLAGs in Finland, Sweden, Estonia and Germany, which face similar challenges in tackling the lack of knowledge on what has been described as a ‘wicked’ problem. The objective of the project was to increase knowledge and data on the social and economic impacts of seals and cormorants on small-scale coastal fisheries in the Baltic, as well as bringing together and compiling existing national data from each of the Member States involved. Finally, the project would propose better solutions for marine resource management according to the study results and disseminate these findings among the decision-makers and other relevant stakeholders, such as NGOs, the media, and the public.
In addition to the FLAGs, three research institutions were involved in the project: the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE), the Department of Aquatic Resources at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), and the University of Tartu, Estonia. Each of the institutions had prior experience in research related to seals and cormorants and were able to provide the project partners with their knowledge of research methods and the different perspectives about the problem from the different Member States.
The project encouraged the creation of a platform for Baltic Sea FLAGs to meet and exchange experience, knowledge, and good practices. The project also increases the visibility and networking capacity of the FLAGs with other valuable stakeholders including politicians, environmental organisations, and local fishers. Such networking raises the awareness of the fishing sector crisis among the policy-makers and general public. The main deliverables of the project have been:
Publication of the report ‘The impacts of seals and cormorants experienced by Baltic Sea commercial fishers’in 2019. The report was developed after a total of 219 interviews and a survey conducted by the FLAGs among the coastal fishermen in six countries of the Baltic Sea region.
The development of recommendations on potential solutions and mitigation methods to decrease conflicts between seals and fisheries in the Baltic Sea region, presented at the HELCOM workshop in June 2019 on marine environmental protection in the Baltic.
Thematic summaries from 50 national research reports on seals and cormorants damages, highlighting the economic loss for the fishers.
Presentation of the project at several events, including the meetings with the Baltic Sea Regional Advisory Council and the European Commission.
Two press releases published by the FLAGs in Finland, Sweden, Estonia, and Germany on the key findings of the LUKE (2019) report. Besides the media, the two press releases were also sent to 333 policy-makers in the Baltic area and to representatives of the EU Parliament. The press releases generated approximately 70 media articles in these four Member States.
The project has also resulted in a number of open letters sent to national and EU decision-makers describing the state of small-scale coastal fisheries in the Baltic Sea region.
While the seals and cormorants’ issue mainly impacts the Baltic, the cooperative approach undertaken by the FLAGs involved, identifying a common challenge with their neighbouring local areas, could be implemented in other regions. Also, collecting information directly from fishers in an attempt to establish collective solutions to global problems is an important point to be considered for ensuring a bottom-up approach. This transnational cooperation project provides a valuable example of how FLAGs can cooperate on cross-regional topics for raising awareness on the issues occurring in small-scale fisheries.
Lessons: Regional level cooperation among FLAGs can be challenging due to, among other things, the regulatory differences regarding the implementation of the EMFF. The commitment and experience of the project partners and FLAGs from different countries in the topic of the project was essential to successfully work towards a common goal.
Contribution to CLLD objective: (e) strengthening the role of fisheries communities in local development and the governance of local fisheries resources and maritime activities.