Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission


Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

New criteria for sustainable aquaculture are a best practice example from HELCOM

HELCOM has officially unveiled the comprehensive Best Available Technologies (BAT) and Best Environmental Practices (BEP) for sustainable aquaculture in the Baltic Sea region, marking the culmination of extensive and constructive efforts. Helsinki Convention, governed by HELCOM, is the first Regional Seas Convention in Europe that has such specific guidance on aquaculture and can be regarded as a best practice example.

The balance between protection of the highly sensitive and strained Baltic Sea marine environment and the needs of the growing aquaculture sector was challenging to negotiate, but the successful and ambitious BAT/BEP descriptions give thorough and concrete guidance for both marine and freshwater aquaculture.

The pioneering BAT/BEP document is highly detailed, and it covers a wide range of issues, from inputs of nutrients and hazardous substances to marine litter, non-indigenous species and escapees, underwater noise, sustainable feed and feeding practices, as well as permits, monitoring and staff training. For instance, aquaculture can be a source of hazardous substance inputs through veterinary medicinal products, antifouling coatings, and cleaning and disinfection products. Concerning nutrient inputs, the key reason for eutrophication in the Baltic Sea, BAT/BEP descriptions recommend to set discharge limits that take account of the nutrient reduction scheme of HELCOM and the goals of the Baltic Sea Action Plan.

A regular reporting process aims to secure that HELCOM Contracting Parties apply the guidelines in their aquaculture operations.

The new BAT/BEP descriptions help to ensure that the growing aquaculture sector develops sustainably in the Baltic Sea.

BAT/BEP descriptions of sustainable aquaculture in the Baltic Sea region


Johanna Laurila

Communication Advisor, HELCOM

+358 40 6473996

HOLAS 3 thematic assessments unveil Baltic Sea ecosystem health

After several years in the making, HOLAS 3 thematic assessments on the state of the Baltic Sea have been published, covering the period of 2016–2021. The thematic assessments are part of the third HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS 3), providing a holistic view of the Baltic Sea ecosystem health. 

The holistic approach highlights the interconnectedness of various environmental factors and their impact on the ecosystem. The five assessment reports each focus on a specific topic, addressing the state of biodiversity, environmental pressures, eutrophication, and the relationship between humanity and nature. The findings offer valuable insights for policymakers, scientists, and stakeholders alike.

The results of HOLAS 3 have been published in stages, commencing in March 2023, and the process will culminate in the publication of the summary report State of the Baltic Sea, expected at the end of October 2023.

A comprehensive holistic assessment on the state of the Baltic Sea is conducted once every six years. The reports result from collaborative efforts among HELCOM member states, scientific experts, and organizations dedicated to the protection of the Baltic Sea. They serve as a cornerstone of HELCOM’s work and policymaking, assisting in the monitoring of the implementation and the effectiveness of the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP).

Thematic assessments 2023

HELCOM Thematic assessment of economic and social analyses 2016-2021

HELCOM Thematic assessment of spatial distribution of pressures and impacts 2016-2021

HELCOM Thematic assessment of hazardous substances, marine litter, underwater noise and non-indigenous species 2016-2021

HELCOM Thematic assessment of biodiversity 2016-2021 (Main report compressed)

HELCOM Thematic assessment of eutrophication 2016-2021

New HELCOM indicator reports provide the latest evaluations of Baltic marine environment

The latest indicator evaluations on the status of the Baltic Sea marine environment have been published on the new HELCOM indicator website. The total number of indicators now amounts to 59, covering several major components of the Baltic Sea ecosystem including pelagic and benthic habitats, fish, waterbirds and marine mammals, as well as a number of human-induced pressures.

New indicators include the abundance and distribution of the harbour porpoise, the amount of beach litter, shallow water oxygen, as well as concentrations of copper, among others. Previously, there was no agreement or methodology in place to assess the status of these topics.

Several indicators also apply preliminary threshold values (for example, for underwater noise) and where possible, the threshold values have been made compatible with EU-wide processes. For the first time, threshold values for the number of drowned mammals and waterbirds in fishing gear (bycatch indicator) have been applied.

The HELCOM indicators support measuring progress towards regionally agreed targets and objectives defined in the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP). The indicators provide a mechanism to monitor the effectiveness of the measures that have been put in place by regularly synthesizing common regional data into an evaluation of progress towards these goals and the BSAP vision. The evaluations contribute directly to the third HELCOM holistic assessment (HOLAS 3).

On the new website, the indicators can be filtered by type (driver/element/pressure/state), category (core/pre-core/supplementary) as well as policy relevance (BSAP segment and MSFD criteria). The development of the new HELCOM indicator website was implemented by the HELCOM BLUES project, co-funded by the European Union.

About HELCOM indicators

HELCOM indicators are developed to evaluate the status of biodiversity elements, evaluate other relevant environmental condition factors, evaluate human-induced pressures on the Baltic Sea, and support broader assessments and overviews in the region.

HELCOM indicators are measured in relation to regionally agreed threshold values, which are specific to each indicator. They may take the form of maximum, minimum or a range of values, and there can be variation in the threshold value(s) within an indicator (sub-regional) and between indicators.

The outcome of an indicator evaluation is expressed in terms of failing or achieving the threshold value and this is therefore indicative of if good environmental status is achieved or not for each specific indicator.

The indicators are selected based on ecological and policy relevance, measurability with monitoring data, and linkage to anthropogenic pressures. They are then developed by lead experts through regional cooperation, using the best available scientific knowledge. Each indicator is regularly reviewed and updated by technical and policy experts from across the region (HELCOM Expert and Working Groups). The work on introducing new indicators continues to cover all relevant topics and issues.

More information about the indicators can be found in the Indicator Manual.

HELCOM Explorer gives easy online access to follow implementing the Baltic Sea Action Plan

The recently updated online tool HELCOM Explorer allows to easily see how HELCOM cooperation bears fruit, and how the countries’ actions are being fulfilled when reaching the majority of their ambitious HELCOM targets and the ultimate goal: Baltic Sea in good ecological state.

The actions listed in the Explorer include the entire updated Baltic Sea Action Plan (2021), HELCOM Ministerial Meeting commitments from 2010 onwards as well as selected HELCOM Recommendations. The updated BSAP contains 199 concrete actions and measures addressing biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances, and sea-based activities such as shipping and fisheries. In addition, it includes new actions on emerging or previously less highlighted pressures such as climate change, marine litter, pharmaceuticals, underwater noise, and seabed disturbance.

As most actions of the 2021 Baltic Sea Action Plan have a deadline years ahead, they now show red, Not accomplished, in the HELCOM Explorer.

The updated BSAP is also closely aligned with international and regional objectives such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), or, for those of our Contracting Parties that are also EU members, the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).  All actions are to be implemented by 2030 at the latest.

“As the HELCOM Explorer provides a comprehensive overview and a great amount of information on both joint and national actions, with easy filtering tools, it is quite a unique system in regional marine governance. Moreover, it is a very concrete indicator  of transparency for our stakeholders and to the broader audiences”, says Rüdiger Strempel, Executive Secretary of HELCOM.

Joint actions are carried out together by all HELCOM Contracting Parties, for example creating a new Recommendation, joint management guidelines, or assessments of environmental status. National actions are implemented at the country level, and they include e.g. incorporating the provisions of a HELCOM Recommendation into relevant national legislation or guidelines.

The Explorer allows for easy overview browsing, but also for more detailed filtering, according to the details of the actions in the Baltic Sea Action Plan such as segment, theme, or target year. The tool further provides information on why the action is needed (rationale), what pressures or activities are addressed by the action in question, and, for some, what is the potential effect of the measure to reduce pressures or improve the state of the Baltic Sea. All data is available for download.

The HELCOM Explorer tool to track the progress on the implementation of HELCOM commitments was first launched in 2016, and the interface was updated in 2020.

The reporting on the implementation of the joint actions is done by relevant HELCOM Working Groups and the reporting on the national actions by the countries. The first reporting on the implementation of actions in the 2021 BSAP is planned to take place in 2025, followed by the second reporting round in 2029.


Mock Employee
Laura Kaikkonen

Project Researcher

Mock Employee
Susanna Kaasinen

Associate Professional Secretary

About the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP)

The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) is HELCOM’s strategic programme of measures and actions for achieving good environmental status of the sea, ultimately leading to a Baltic Sea in a healthy state.

Initially adopted by the HELCOM Contracting Parties in 2007, the 2021 BSAP is based on the original plan and maintains the same level of ambition. It also retains all actions previously agreed on that are still to be implemented, while, in addition, includes new actions to strengthen the existing efforts and tackle emerging concerns.

Guided by the HELCOM vision of “a healthy Baltic Sea environment with diverse biological components functioning in balance, resulting in a good ecological status and supporting a wide range of sustainable economic and social activities”, the updated BSAP is divided into four segments with specific goals: biodiversity, eutrophication, hazardous substances and sea-based activities.

About HELCOM Recommendations

One of the most important duties of the Helsinki Commission is to make Recommendations on measures to address certain pollution sources or areas of concern. Since the beginning of the 1980s HELCOM has adopted some 260 HELCOM Recommendations for the protection of the Baltic Sea. The implementation of various HELCOM recommendations by the HELCOM Contracting Parties plays an important role in achieving the objectives of the Baltic Sea Action Plan. The HELCOM Explorer covers the reporting on the implementation status of selected HELCOM Recommendations.


The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission – also known as the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) – is an intergovernmental organization (IGO) and a regional sea convention in the Baltic Sea area, consisting of ten members: the nine Baltic Sea countries Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden, plus the European Union. A platform for environmental policy making at the regional level, HELCOM works for a healthy Baltic Sea. Its mandate stems from a regional treaty, the Helsinki Convention, whose implementation it oversees. The HELCOM Secretariat is located in Helsinki, Finland.

Side Event at UN Ocean Conference 30 June: delivering global commitments in the Baltic Sea Region

The success of the Baltic Sea region in nominating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the emerging plans regarding Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECMs) will be in key focus in a side event on 30 June 2022, taking place during the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.

The aim is to present marine protection as a concrete example of the instrumental role of the regional sea conventions in implementing Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life under water – in particular and other global commitments in general, at the macro-regional and sea-basin levels.

The side event will present HELCOM’s Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) 2021–2030 as a best practice example for an ecosystem-based approach to marine management from science to action. The BSAP provides concrete tools for reaching the regional commitments, such as the establishment of a coherent MPA network, and the “30/10 target” referring to the expansion aim of the MPA coverage to 30 % of the Baltic Sea, with one third being strictly protected. The latter has a straight link to processes under Convention on Biological Diversity as well as the EU Biodiversity Strategy.

In addition to MPAs, the event focuses on the areas that are achieving the effective in-situ conservation of biodiversity outside of protected areas, so called Other Effective Conservation Measures (OECMs), as referred to in Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD).

Main organizers of the event are the Ministries of the Environment of Estonia and Germany (HELCOM Chair).

UN Ocean Conference, postponed due to the covid pandemic, will be held in Lisbon, Portugal. from 27 June until 1 July, 2022.

Please find here more information about the event and stay tuned for updates.

Sea trout are back in Lithuanian river after successful restoration under the RETROUT project

©Piotr Wawrzyniuk –

Sea trout are reproducing again in parts of the Smeltalė river in Lithuania after a successful restoration exercise under the Baltic-wide RETROUT project.

“We counted 13 new sea trout nests within only two months after the restoration work was finished,” said Nerijus Nika from Klaipeda University, one of the partners responsible for the Lithuanian river restorations within RETROUT, further noting that the specifically created reproduction sections, or spawning habitats, were all intensively used by sea trout. The restoration work was completed in September 2019.

RETROUT carries out a number of river restoration demonstration cases in the project partner countries to improve the condition of sea trout populations. 

“For viable and healthy sea trout populations, we need healthy and accessible rivers. Unfortunately, many rivers potentially suitable for sea trout aren’t yet in the condition we’d like them to be,” said Henri Jokinen, the RETROUT project manager at HELCOM.

In Lithuania, the rehabilitation started with the creation of a system of meandering shallow ponds in an area of the Smeltalė river previously purposed as a surface flow treatment wetland for improved water quality. 

Since its construction 20 years ago, the wetland hadn’t been maintained, accumulating excessive sediments from defaulting sedimentation ponds as well as suffering from excessive vegetation on its banks. 

In addition, a 500 m section was modified in the Smeltaitė stream, a main tributary of Smeltalė river, using stones, gravel and logs to create three 50 m long spawning and juvenile rearing habitats. 

“According to local experts, such habitats are spawning hot spots for salmonids and lampreys in lowland streams of Lithuania,” said Jokinen. Indeed, all three created spawning habitat sections were intensively used by sea trout only two months after completion. 

In the Smeltaitė stream, the two biggest trout nests – of 7,5 m2 and 10 m2 – were found in the restored stretch, in habitats pre-evaluated to be of high priority for sea trout females. One of these sites was constantly occupied for 1.5 month by up to five different trout, a rather unusual spawning behaviour. 

With special focus on sea trout, the RETROUT project seeks to promote and develop sustainable coastal fishing tourism in the Baltic Sea region. RETROUT initiated 15 restoration cases in coastal rivers of Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Sweden. Measures under the project cover fishways, biotope restorations, water quality improvement, and dam removal plans. 

In the RETROUT project, HELCOM leads the work package on Assessment of status and management of sea trout rivers and stocks which focuses mainly on the ecological aspect of trout fishing, notably through assessing fish stock and river habitat status, and by evaluating river restoration practices to improve trout populations. 

The main results will be published as an assessment report and as a toolbox of best practices and guidelines for river restoration in the Baltic Sea. 

“In addition to improving the actual condition of a river, the experience we get from these demonstration cases will help us to develop the ‘Guidelines for river restoration best practices in the Baltic Sea region,’ another major outcome of the project,” said Jokinen.

The restoration of the Smeltalė river was conducted by the Klaipeda District Municipality Administration, with technical and scientific support from the Klaipeda University. 

Photos from Smeltalė river, Lithuania. © Nerijus Nika

Two sea trout in their newly restored habitat. © Tomas Ruginis

Coastal fish assessments will continue in the Baltic Sea with renewed HELCOM project

 Members of the FISH-PRO III project in Helsinki on 13 February 2019. © HELCOMCoastal fish assessments will continue to be carried out in the Baltic Sea with renewed commitment from the HELCOM countries, as shown during the first meeting of the  that was held in Helsinki from 12 to 14 February 2019. The focus of the meeting was to finalize the revised monitoring guideline for coastal fish in HELCOM, and to follow up on the development work of the indicators used for the assessments of coastal fish.”The Helsinki meeting took us a step further in the development of additional indicators for coastal fish,” said Jens Olsson, project manager of FISH-PRO III and chair of the meeting.The current  on coastal fish notably evaluate the abundance of typical species of fish, such as perch and flounder, in the coastal areas of the Baltic Sea. They also evaluate the status of key functional groups such as piscivores, cyprinids and mesopredators.FISH-PRO III – the Continuation of the Project for Baltic-wide assessment of coastal fish communities in support of an ecosystem-based management – follows the FISH-PRO II project. Findings from FISH-PRO II were recently published in the . HELCOM thematic assessments on coastal fish have been produced since 2006. Attended by participants from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden, the meeting was instrumental in outlining the project’s thematic areas of work and workplan for the coming years. Furthermore, the assessments produced by FISH-PRO III will also feed the . 

Coastal fish assessments will continue to be carried out in the Baltic Sea with renewed commitment from the HELCOM countries, as shown during the first meeting of the FISH-PRO III project that was held in Helsinki from 12 to 14 February 2019.

HELCOM report on coastal fish in the Baltic Sea finds that only half of the assessed areas are in a good state

 HELCOM recently published a report assessing coastal fish in the Baltic, the . According to the report, only about half of the assessed areas obtain a good status.In general, the overall status of varies between geographical areas, with the north of the Baltic faring slightly better than the south. Key species and piscivores show a better status in more northern areas of the Baltic, compared to the south of the sea. For cyprinids, the status is often insufficient due to overabundance, especially in the north-eastern part of the Baltic.  “The report summarizes the current status of coastal fish communities in the Baltic Sea as derived from official monitoring programs of the ,” said Jens Olsson from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and who led the report. “It also contains short reviews on the factors regulating the communities and potential measures for the restoration and protection of coastal fish in the Baltic Sea.”To date, measures to restore and support coastal fish communities have barely been evaluated. As highlighted in the report, fishing regulations including permanent or temporary no-take areas, gear regulations, and habitat protection and restoration are measures that have shown to have a positive effects on fish populations.Coastal fish communities are regulated by a plethora of both natural and human-induced factors such as fishing, habitat exploitation, climate, eutrophication and interactions between species in the ecosystem.In being in the central part of the food-web, coastal fish are of key ecological and socio-economic importance, and their status often reflects the general health of coastal ecosystems.Depending on the sub-basin, the assessed key species were mainly perch and, in some southern areas, also flounder. The monitored piscivorous fish were perch, pike, pike-perch, burbot, cod and turbot. In the cyprinid family, roach and breams dominated the catch assessed. In the few areas where cyprinids do not occur naturally, mesopredatory fish were assessed instead, such as wrasses, sticklebacks, flatfishes, clupeids and gobies.”The information contained in this report is a valuable basis for following up on the objectives of the  and , as well as for the development of national management plans for coastal fish,” concluded Olsson.   –For more information:Jens OlssonSwedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU Aqua)

HELCOM recently published a report assessing coastal fish in the Baltic. According to the report, only about half of the assessed areas obtain a good status.

Eel and the Baltic Sea in the focus of a joint regional workshop

Experts to discuss Baltic Sea processes for eel assessment and managementAim: identifying ways of working together on eel more efficientlyEel and the Baltic Sea is the topic of a regional workshop starting today in Stockholm, which gathers representatives from management bodies, scientific experts, and relevant stakeholders in charge of assessment and management of eel in countries around the Baltic Sea and its tributaries. European eel. Image: The workshop will share information on international, regional, and national processes on eel assessment and management that are relevant for the Baltic Sea. Based on this, the workshop will discuss similarities, differences, challenges, and opportunities for next steps.”During the three days, we bring together information, expertise, and interest, in order to identify possible ways to contribute to managing this shared resource. We will especially consider how we could work together in the Baltic Sea region more efficiently,” says Willem Dekker, the workshop moderator and senior scientist at the Swedish University of Agriculture (SLU) specialised on eel.The workshop is organized as part of the , in cooperation with the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and Sargasso Sea Commission (SSC), and with presentations from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the EU Commission and the Baltic Sea Advisory Council (BSAC). The Workshop is hosted by the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (SWAM) with the Swedish University of Agriculture (SLU). The outcome will be submitted to the HELCOM Fish group and other organizations/bodies, as appropriate, for consideration and follow-up.* * *Background informationThe deals with the implementation of the ecosystem-based approach in fisheries and considers how the sector could help reach Good Environmental Status in the Baltic Sea by 2021. The group involves representatives from fisheries and environmental authorities of the Baltic Sea countries, as well as EU, and HELCOM Observers and others as appropriate. Its official name is the HELCOM Group on Ecosystem-based Sustainable Fisheries. The Task force on migratory fish species (FISH-M) is a sub-group of HELCOM FISH which looks at the particular challenges around migratory fish species such as salmon, seatrout and eel.HELCOM is an intergovernmental organization made up of the nine Baltic Sea coastal countries and the European Union. Founded in 1974, its primary aims as a governing body are to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution, as well as to ensure safe maritime navigation. The official name of HELCOM is the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission; it is the governing body of the Helsinki Convention.* * *ContactsWillem DekkerSenior scientist, Swedish University of Agricultural SciencesMobile: +46 76 126 8136 E-mail: Willem.Dekker@slu.seHermanni Backer Professional Secretary for Maritime, Response and Fish groups HELCOM Tel: +358 46 8509199 Skype: helcom02 E-mail: hermanni.backer(at)

Experts to discuss Baltic Sea processes for eel assessment and management, with the aim of identifying ways of working together on eel more efficiently

Mapping the use of regional HELCOM AIS data on ships

The current and future uses of the regional HELCOM AIS data were discussed in a dedicated open seminar this week at the HELCOM Secretariat. The open event, part of recent fast developments around one of the first regional AIS data networks, was attended by researchers, national AIS data experts and companies.Since the launch in 2005 the HELCOM AIS network has enabled the HELCOM Contracting Parties (Denmark, Estonia, European Union (EMSA), Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden) as well as Norway to share the live Automatic Identification System (AIS) data received by their national base stations. It has also generated a unique regional database on historic ship movements in the Baltic Sea.The network itself, and the resulting data, is overseen by the dedicated HELCOM Expert Working Group on AIS and data, meeting annually since 2002. The network server is, since this year, hosted by Norway.AIS data from this regional network is increasingly used for various purposes extending far beyond operational safety of navigation, including analysing emissions from ships and enabling accidental spill risk assessments in the Baltic Sea.However, the wider HELCOM community, especially research, has only recently been able to use this valuable information in full, due to the lack of joint and openly available data processing methods, tools and definitions. Examples of such products include traffic density maps which can be used for various purposes from Maritime Spatial Planning, safety and environmental policy. The same issues are facing AIS data users around the world.The seminar debated different approaches and uses of AIS data in order to support the development of the needed joint and open data processing methods, tools and definitions for the HELCOM community and beyond.* * Note for editorsHELCOM AIS Working Group is a sub-group of the HELCOM Maritime Working Group. It governs the regional AIS network and meets annually since 2002.HELCOM is an intergovernmental organization made up of the nine Baltic Sea coastal countries and the European Union. Founded in 1974, its primary aims as the governing body of the Helsinki Convention are to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea from all sources of pollution. This includes pollution from ships and safe maritime navigation, fields where the work involves regional dimensions of IMO regulations and initiatives. The full official name of HELCOM is the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission.* * *For more information, please contact:Hermanni BackerProfessional Secretary for Maritime, Response and FishHELCOMTel:  +358 46 8509199Skype: helcom02E-mail: hermanni.backer(at) ​

The current and future uses of the regional HELCOM AIS data were discussed in a dedicated open seminar this week at the HELCOM Secretariat.