July 15, 2024

Even aged 84, Holger Sjogren nimbly untangles the knots in his herring net as it was lowered into the murky depths of the Baltic Sea. “When the trawl bag comes up, the seagulls give us a concert,” he said.

Sjogren, a fifth-generation herring fisherman, has been trawling from the waters near Kotka in southeastern Finland for more than five decades. In the harbour, dozens of customers eagerly await his return to buy his catch straight off the boat.

However, the Baltic, which is enveloped by some of Europe’s most industrialised nations, is one of the most heavily polluted marine ecosystems on the planet. Numerous species are threatened, and quotas tightening, leaving fishers in Finland fearing that their trawlers might be mothballed for good.

“Many people are scared that they will have to quit,” said Sjogren. While some experts have called for a reduction in fishing quotas to safeguard the fragile ecosystem, others fear that a halt to fishing could have more adverse effects than positive ones.

In October, the European Union reduced Baltic herring quotas by up to 43 percent for 2024 – well short of the total ban initially proposed by the European Commission in August.

But with Baltic herring making up approximately 80 percent of Finland’s annual catch, fishers believe they are being punished for a problem they did not cause. “We take so little herring that it makes no difference to the stock, on the contrary, it revitalises the stock more than it consumes,” Sjogren argued.

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