Sea trout is a fish that spends most of its life in the sea but reproduces in rivers, and must therefore be able to move in between. Today, however, many rivers along the Baltic Sea are affected by human activities and both sea trout and other species are disturbed.
Håkan Häggström at the County Administrative Board of Stockholm and project manager for RETROUT, says there is an urgent need to restore rivers.
– This is a recommendation that was signed by the Baltic Sea countries’ environment ministers as early as 2013.
RETROUT, which is a collaboration between six countries around the Baltic Sea, aims to promote sustainable fishing tourism in the region. In this context, sea trout is particularly interesting.
– For cod, for example, the situation is serious and it is not possible to fish for that species. Salmon also have problems and the recommendation from researchers is not to fish for salmon in the Baltic Sea. Fishing may be concentrated on other species until further notice.
Sea trout can be fished to a certain extent, but the stocks must be restored. We can already see that the restoration of rivers has had a good effect, says Håkan Häggström.
– The recruitment of fish (i.e. the number of fish that are born each year) is improving and we have contributed to the pace of restoration of rivers in the Baltic Sea region. In Lithuania, for example, the country’s first project for restoration of rivers was carried out through RETROUT. It has resulted in ripple effects and several projects have been initiated with “our” projects as a model.
Håkan Häggström believes that there is great potential in the region for sustainable fishing tourism, even though the number of international visitors has decreased temporarily due to the pandemic.
– Eventually, people will start traveling again, and for those who live in the region, fishing tourism can increase when more people discover nature, which has become a trend during the pandemic.
He emphasizes that fishing tourism needs to be sustainable.
– Among other things, for example, it must follow the code of ethics that we have developed in the project. Also, the travel to the region should be sustainable.
For Håkan Häggström and his colleagues, the early steps leading up RETROUT were taken over six years ago.
– I participated in another work on how to strengthen the populations of salmon and sea trout in the Baltic Sea, and wanted to find a way to speed up the work. I thought we should examine why some projects succeed while others fail.
They applied for funding from the Swedish Institute for Baltic Water Peers, a smaller project that eventually laid the foundation for RETROUT.
– The support from SI was used for preparatory meetings with the project partners and laid the foundation for the collaboration. As a result of the project, we succeeded in obtaining funding via Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme. Today we have a budget of SEK 36 million, including co-financing from the Swedish Agency for Maritime and Water Management, the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth and co-financing from the partner countries.
– It has been incredibly rewarding to visit restoration sites and look at fishing destinations in other countries. The fishing guides who have participated in the project have found new colleagues and now have a network.
This very week, RETROUT is being highlighted in the EU campaign “Europe in my region”, which promotes various initiatives in the EU’s regions.
– We show, among other things, a short film about our fishing trips and the connection between the availability of fish and the restoration of the natural environment. The connection between nature conservation and economic growth is important to highlight, says Håkan Häggström.
The Baltic Water Peers project was funded by the Swedish Institute through the funding scheme Seed funding for cooperation projects in the Baltic Sea region.
Swedish Institute provides seed funding for joint projects in which organisations based in Sweden can start and expand collaborations to meet transnational challenges together with organisations from the Baltic Sea region countries including Russia and the countries of the EU Eastern Partnership. A new call opens towards the end of 2021 and closes at the beginning of 2022.