The environmental group WWF Finland has called for more restrictions on the use of herring from the Baltic Sea due to declining fish stocks.
The WWF has updated its fish guide, which provides recommendations for the responsible consumption of fish.
As of Thursday, the guide said herring caught in the Gulf of Bothnia, off Finland’s west coast, should be used cautiously while herring trawled from the Baltic Sea's main basin should be avoided completely.
The WWF fish guide uses traffic-light indicators. It has changed the status of herring from the Gulf of Bothnia from green to yellow, and that of herring from the main part of Baltic from yellow to red. Baltic herring caught from the Gulf of Riga between Latvia and Estonia is still marked in green.
According to the WWF, stocks of fish marked in green areas have viable populations and catching them does not cause environmental harm. Those marked in yellow have sustainability risks and uncertainties, while the NGO recommends that those marked in red should not be fished or purchased by consumers.
Some stocks fall below critical level
According to the latest stock estimates, the main herring stocks in the Baltic Sea have fallen below target levels, which is an alarming sign of changes in the sea's ecosystem, WWF Finland said in a press release.
It said the Bay of Bothnia herring population has fallen below its target level for the first time, while stocks in the main Baltic basin and the Gulf of Finland have declined below the critical level.
In August, the European Commission proposed suspending the targeted fishing of herring in waters close to Finland for the next year. According to the commission, the volume of herring in Bay of Bothnia has fallen below the sustainable stock and without restrictions will likely decrease further.
At the time, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Sari Essayah (CD) described the EU plan as "disproportionate and unreasonable".
WWF Marine Conservation Officer Matti Ovaska said in the press release that fishing is only one of the factors explaining the decline of herring, but that a significant reduction in trawling in particular would be important.
“Due to climate change and eutrophication, the fishes’ habitat has changed and the species at the top of the food chain react quickly. Herring is an example of a species that is strongly affected by environmental changes. The rapid changes in the Baltic Sea should be more carefully taken into account in fishing regulations,” Ovaska said.
While herring was long a staple of the Finnish diet, nowadays most of the herring caught in Finnish waters is used as feed for fish farming and at fur farms. According to the WWF, the dwindling catch quotas should be directed primarily to human consumption rather than animal feed.