The University of Tartu has conferred the degree of Honorary Doctor of Marine Ecology on Erik Neuman for studying the fish communities in the Baltic Sea and years of supporting the Estonian marine research.
Erik Neuman was born on 8 August 1944 in Borås, Sweden. After studies at Swedish and Finnish universities, he defended his cand.phil. in zoology at the University of Stockholm in 1975. From 1968 to 1991, he worked as a scientist and research coordinator in the Swedish Environment Protection Agency, between 1991 and 2002, in the Swedish National Board of Fisheries as director of the Institute of Coastal Research and thereafter as a private consultant.
Erik Neuman's research mainly focused on developing monitoring methods for fish communities in the Baltic Sea. He also led various applied studies on the effects of heavy industries on the marine environment and did extensive investigations on the effects of the use of cooling water at Swedish nuclear power plants. As a result, Neuman and his colleagues pioneered knowledge of coastal fish communities, especially regarding temperature influence on communities and population dynamics. This knowledge is now invaluable from a global warming perspective.
The fish monitoring methods developed by Neuman's research group are now used in Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as they are suitable for studying the entire northern Baltic Sea. The main aim of the monitoring is to follow the long-term changes in the species composition, abundance and age distribution of fish populations. The monitoring system developed by Neuman is based on standardised gill-netting, as our shallow coastal waters with plenty of shoals do not allow using trawling methods that work well in most countries of the world.
In the 1980s, Neuman's group cooperated closely with Finnish colleagues. An important part of the work was to adopt the monitoring in a common system of unpolluted reference areas. In 1990, this cooperation was extended when a joint Swedish-Finnish-Estonian-Lithuanian (later joined by Latvia) coastal fish monitoring programme was created, supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers. In 1991, the programme started in Estonia. The work at the University of Tartu Estonian Marine Institute was fully funded by the Swedish state for the first three years – this was only possible thanks to Erik Neuman's efforts. The programme covered the costs of equipment as well as the training of staff in Sweden and their salaries in Estonia. The work that started with Neuman's help has now become the most important tool for studying Estonian coastal fish communities, with data being collected at eight monitoring sites and used to draw the most important conclusions about the state of fish communities.
The work at the power plants necessitated developing fish monitoring methods further. Neuman and his group successfully introduced them at pulp mills, Sweden's petrochemical industry and the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in Lithuania. Alarming results of studies at the pulp mills contributed to decisions which have by now led to a significant reduction in emissions.
As director of the Institute of Coastal Research and leader of fishery projects within the extensive research programme Sustainable Coastal Zone Management, Erik Neuman widened his research to fisheries management. Together with social scientists, he analysed local fisheries management and its biological, social and legal preconditions in Baltic coastal areas. Here too, the solutions he proposed were innovative. As fish stocks in Europe are largely overfished, the use of more clearly defined fishing rights, such as quotas, and the greater decision-making power of regional fisheries organisations, which Neuman advocated long ago, are increasingly being recommended in Estonia.