Many of the 2018 Northeast Atlantic fishing quotas proposed today by the European Commission are a step in the right direction, but that alone is not enough to put the EU on course to meet its 2020 deadline for all fishing to be sustainable.
ClientEarth fisheries lawyer Flaminia Tacconi said: “No more excuses. We have only two years until the legal deadline for all fish to be caught sustainably, and we are nowhere near ready. It is unacceptable that for the majority of stocks, we still have no idea whether they are being fished sustainably – or even heading in the right direction – as required by the Common Fisheries Policy. And what we do know doesn’t look promising: Almost 50% of assessed stocks in the Northeast Atlantic were still being overfished in 2015, the most recent year for which we have this information. It’s up to the Commission to propose quotas that follow the science, and the fisheries ministers to stick to them.”
Several fish stocks, like whiting in the West of Scotland and the Irish Sea, are still dangerously depleted and scientists have advised zero catches for more than ten years. Until now, the EU’s fishing quotas have not followed this advice, and these species continue to be caught.
Today’s proposal by the Commission attempts to iron this out for some, but not all of these vulnerable stocks. For many stocks where we don’t have the data to assess how populous they are – like sole and plaice in the west of Ireland – the Commission has again proposed catch limits above scientific advice. Lack of data must not be used as an excuse to ignore the science, and a serious commitment by everyone involved will be needed to reverse the damage done by leaving it so late to try to bring these stocks back to sustainable levels.
The most recent scientific analysis of EU fish stocks confirms that as things stand, the EU is almost certain to miss the 2020 deadline. However, there’s currently no way of telling exactly how far away we are from meeting the deadline, as the Commission’s monitoring and reporting is limited to fewer than 70 out of 180-plus stocks. Another major issue is mismatch between the fishing areas for which quotas are set and those covered by scientific advice. Lack of clarity about how the quotas are calculated and whether they follow scientists’ recommendations makes it even harder to judge progress towards the 2020 legal deadline.
We welcome that many of the Commission’s proposed quotas do follow or are even lower than scientific advice on maximum sustainable yield (MSY). For example, Irish Sea plaice, which has increased to historically high levels following reductions in fishing pressure, or Irish Sea cod, for which scientists gave non-zero catch advice for the first time since 1999.
On 11 December, the EU Council of fisheries ministers will set the quotas, known as Total Allowable Catches (TACs), based on the Commission’s proposal. In past years, Council has consistently set many quotas higher than the Commission proposed, in some cases far above sustainable catch levels recommended by scientists. We urge the EU Council to follow the science, as significant progress now is the best way to avoid sharp shocks for industry and consumers in two years.
Tacconi added: “If the Commission and the Council continue on their current course, there is no doubt we will need huge reductions in 2019 to avoid breaking EU fisheries law and threatening the future of the fishing industry and the sea life it depends on. We have known about this deadline for four years, yet the EU keeps turning a blind eye on the majority of stocks with its business-as-usual approach. With almost half of assessed Northeast Atlantic stocks still overexploited, it’s time to get tough on overfishing, and set quotas that put us on course to legal compliance and sustainable seas.”