A need to highlight the potential of commercial fishing in the updated maritime spatial plan

In late winter, the Maritime Spatial Planning Coordination Group organised two events with Saaristomeren and Etelärannikon Kalaleader to address the question of “how maritime spatial planning can support sustainable commercial fisheries”. The results of the stakeholder meetings will enable the objectives linked to a sustainable blue economy, sustainable use of natural resources and achieving good environmental status of the marine environment to be better promoted in the updated maritime spatial plan.  

The fishing environment has long been in a state of uncertainty and there are few glimmers of hope. Commercial fisheries are identified in the maritime spatial plan as a major player in sustainable sea-food production and in the plan’s vision as a climate-friendly source of food for the future. In order for MSP to better promote the viability and sustainable future of commercial fisheries, it was considered important to come together to promote dialogue with key regional stakeholders.  

With the support of the Kalaleader activators, professional fishermen were brought together with the regional authorities with fisheries-related responsibilities. Dialogue and the creation of a common understanding will contribute to future decisions not only at the municipal and regional level but also at national scale, when updating the maritime spatial plan.

“It was great to see that municipalities are interested in the current situation and future development of commercial fisheries and that the maritime spatial planning process also wants to take fisheries more into account when updating the plan,” says Maria Saarinen from Saaristomeren Kalaleader.

The future of sustainable fisheries in the Archipelago Sea and the Gulf of Finland  

The events organised in Naantali on the 16th of February 2024 and in Porvoo on the 6th of March 2024 were aimed at professional fishers and their representatives, spatial planners and municipal authorities. The aim was to seek a common vision on how to support the current situation and development of fisheries in the Archipelago Sea and the Gulf of Finland through concrete actions and planning.   

Issues raised at the Porvoo event included licensing and monitoring, predators and management plans for fisheries areas.

At the target level, maritime spatial planning supports sustainable fishing, which has a positive impact on the state of the marine environment and the continuation of commercial fishing. The plan map identifies  significant areas for commercial fishing, both for gillnetting and open sea trawling. In addition, the map designations of ecological connections and significant underwater natural values are important for sustainable fisheries. They help to identify rivers that are important for fisheries, as well as potential spawning areas.  

The events included a review of the maritime spatial plan’s fishery-related and supporting map data. Professional fishers and their representatives assessed how well the information in the plan reflects the fishing on-going at sea and how the plan should be developed to support the sectors vision for the future. Together with stakeholders, they also considered the challenges facing commercial fisheries and how they could together contribute to the vitality of the sector locally and regionally.

Solutions to the industry’s challenges can be found by working together   

The future development of professional fishing is linked to a number of challenges. It was seen as difficult to predict the future of fishing in the short- and long-term due to, for example, changing quotas and predator damage, and the difficulty of obtaining licences to fish professionally in private waters. In addition, the ageing of fishermen and the general uncertainty surrounding the sector affect the attractiveness of the sector and discourage investment. Discussions highlighted that creating new value chains, developing fish products in partnership with the food industry and examining the role of fisheries in nutrient removal, among other things, could create opportunities for the development of the sector. From a security of supply perspective, fisheries was seen as an sector with the potential to react and grow production rapidly, provided that the necessary skills and infrastructure are maintained.

At both events, fishers and their representatives stressed the importance of taking advantage of the usage- and management plans of the fisheries management areas in the maritime spatial plan. The purpose of these plans is to ensure the sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources and the conservation of biodiversity in the area, thereby contributing, inter alia, to the conditions for commercial fishing. The maritime spatial plan for 2030 Vision and the coastal strategy also identify the potential for using the management plans. The professional fishers group also felt that the fishing areas shown in the plan only partially reflect current fishing activities at sea. The current maritime spatial plan shows the current significant areas for fishing. This can lead to the perception that other areas have no fishing potential. However, this is not the case and the areas used for fishing vary. If conditions change, areas that have not been fished for a long time could well be returned to.  

In Naantali, it was noted that current and historical changes in conditions have partly shifted fishing in the Archipelago Sea from areas visible in the plan inland towards the coast.

The importance of communication was also highlighted at both events. Professional fishers experienced some confrontation with both water owners and recreational fishermen. Water owners do not necessarily want professional fishing in their waters. At the same time, however, there is general support for the idea that the use of domestic fish should be increased. It would therefore be important to highlight the regional benefits of commercial fishing and its contribution to wider societal issues such as security of supply, climate change related challenges and the promotion of healthy diets.   

“Fishing is in many ways an important part of the life of vibrant coastal communities. Its importance as a contribution to security of supply should not be underestimated. It would be good if, in addition to scientific knowledge, decision-making could also take into account the industries that exploit the area and the importance and potential they have to offer for coastal communities. Commercial fishing as a small-scale, coastal multi-species fishery is a good example of a low-carbon source of local food, not forgetting aquaculture, which currently removes more nutrients from the sea than it puts in as a result of farming activities”, says Riku Mesiniemi, activator of the Etelärannikon Kalaleader.   

The events in the Archipelago Sea and the Gulf of Finland were a follow-up to the events in the Gulf of Bothnia in autumn 2023, which focused on reconciling offshore wind power and commercial fishing. You can read more about the events in an earlier news item. The events in the winter of 2024 supported the development of an overall picture of the needs and evolution of commercial fishing and how these issues should be addressed in the second round of maritime spatial planning. The information gathered from these events will be reported more widely as a whole during 2024. The completion of the report will be informed by the MSP communication.  

The events were organised as part of the international MSP-GREEN project (2022-2024, European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund) as a part of the the coordination of maritime spatial planning in Finland.    

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