The Baltic Fish project brought cyprinids from the Baltic Sea to the plates of the Swedes and the Ålanders

A variety of sustainable fish products is now available in Sweden and minced bream has been tested in many institutional kitchens in the Åland Islands. The Baltic Fish project, led by the John Nurminen Foundation and co-financed by the Baltic Sea Action Plan Fund, managed to raise interest, and establish market-based management fishing of cyprinids, namely bream, roach, and ide. By eating cyprinids and other sustainably caught, underutilised fish from the Baltic Sea, consumers can significantly reduce the impact of their diets on the eutrophication of the sea and inland waters as well as their climate footprint.

The goal of the Baltic Fish project (2019­−2021) was to create shared rules for sustainable fish stock management and develop a market-driven food production chain that uses cyprinid fish sustainably in Sweden and Åland Islands, as well as to increase the demand for cyprinid fish in Sweden. The targets were achieved in Sweden but establishing a permanent production chain in Åland proved to be a challenge, partly due to the COVID pandemic.

During the project 52 tonnes of cyprinids were fished in Sweden and 2 tonnes in Åland. This means that the fishing activities carried out under the project removed about 400 kg of phosphorus from the sea.

Fishermen took part in saving the sea

Swedish project partners Race For The Baltic and Guldhaven Pelagiska have worked together with fishermen, authorities, and researchers to increase knowledge on cyprinids as a part of a healthy diet. In addition, this cooperation has produced rules for sustainable cyprinid fishing in Sweden. Delightfully, many professional fishers have become increasingly interested in fishing cyprinids. The project has been joined by a total of nine fishers from Sweden, from the shores of the Bay of Bothnia all the way to the waters of Gotland.

As fish stocks in Åland are big and the fishing activities carried out under the project were very limited, no specific rules were required in Åland. In spring 2020 project partner Ålands Fiskarförbund hired two fishermen to fish bream in Åland.

Fisherman from Kalix showing the catch. Photo: Marie Sparréus

Cyprinids: healthy, delicious, and Baltic Sea-friendly

A study on harmful substances, conducted by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), indicates that the moderate use of cyprinids as part of a diet does not comprise a health risk. A more detailed report on the environmental toxins will be published later. This protein-rich, healthy, and delicious fish is also low on emissions. The carbon footprint of minced bream, calculated by the research institute of Sweden (RISE), is 0.5 kg CO2 equivalent per 1 kg of bream, i.e., extremely low.

“When starting the project, we were excited to see how the Swedes would react to the fish products, since there has not been a tradition of eating cyprinids. The Swedes have taken on the challenge with open minds, and, according to feedback, have found the products to be easy to work with, tasty, and not at all what they would have expected beforehand “, says project manager Maija Salmiovirta from the John Nurminen Foundation.

In autumn 2020, Race For The Baltic launched the new website braxen.nu for the Swedish market in particular. Delicious fish recipes and background information on sustainable fishing is available on the pages. Swedish municipal kitchens and schools have in fact ordered over 100 free tasting boxes from the site. The new products have obviously been found tasty, as municipalities have ordered a total of 20,000 fish patties and 300 kg of minced bream to be served in schools, day care facilities, and other municipal kitchens.

In Åland, cyprinid fishing has taken place in the past two years, and the fish mass has been tried out at school kitchens. Rädda Lumparn – the other project partner in Åland – marketed the product and raised awareness of the benefits of eating cyprinid fish by serving bream burgers in events. Especially elderly people in Åland are familiar with cyprinid fish but for the younger generation the product is new, and the information and tasting opportunities offered by the project have been eye-opening. The Baltic Fish project joined the ReGeneration Week event in August, giving a lecture on the impact of a sustainable diet on the status of the Baltic Sea.

Bream burgers were served in Åland. Photo: Therese Andersson

The triumphs of sustainable fishing continue even after the project ends

The project ended in September, but the work for sustainable fishing will continue, both in Finland and in Sweden. Race For The Baltic will continue working together with fishermen and local and national authorities in Sweden to build a permanent, long-term, sustainable cyprinid fishing along the coast of the Baltic Sea. A new project to improve co-operation between different actors is also planned in Åland to continue the work started on the Baltic Fish project.

“More and more fishermen are interested in cyprinid fishing, and to our delight, new projects that develop fish products are continuously being launched. We very much hope that soon consumers in Nordic countries can choose to include cyprinid products in their shopping carts”, concludes Salmiovirta.

The co-financier of the project, the Baltic Sea Action Plan Fund, managed by NEFCO and NIB, will also continue to support the work for a greener future in the Baltic Sea region. “The Baltic Sea Action Plan Fund provides grant funding to projects that address key challenges facing the Baltic Sea. Projects should focus on concrete measures benefitting the ecological status of the Baltic Sea, ideally with the potential to scale and become financially viable on their own. A good example of such a project is the Baltic Fish project that the BSAP Fund has been happy to take part in. The BSAP Fund continues to look for interesting and innovative solutions benefitting the Baltic Sea, with a call for proposals open until mid-December 2021. Eligible project activities can include, but are not limited to fighting eutrophication, measures to address pollution by hazardous substances, or measures to reduce marine litter”, says Dennis Hamro-Drotz, Senior Investment Manager of The Nordic Environment Finance Corporation NEFCO.

The Baltic Fish project

The aim of the Baltic Fish project, launched in 2019, was to remove nutrients from the Baltic Sea by creating a market-driven food production chain that makes sustainable use of cyprinid fish, as well as increase the demand for cyprinid fish in Sweden and Åland Islands. The project, co-funded by the Baltic Sea Action Plan Fund, involved Race For The Baltic, Guldhaven Pelagiska, Rädda Lumparn, Ålands Fiskarförbund and the John Nurminen Foundation.

John Nurminen Foundation – Baltic Sea protection and marine culture

Founded in 1992, the mission of the John Nurminen Foundation is to save the Baltic Sea and its heritage to future generations. The Foundation has been awarded for its work as a conveyor of culture and producer of marine content. The goal of the Foundation’s Clean Baltic Sea projects is to improve the condition of the Baltic Sea with concrete measures that reduce the load and environmental risks faced by the sea. Our work is guided by measurable results and impact. www.johnnurmisensaatio.fi/en

Picture of two fisherman pulling a net.
Photo: Marie Sparréus