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EU Committee vote risks continued overfishing in North Sea

The success of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) could be under threat after the European Parliament’s fisheries committee voted on a proposed new plan for the North Sea today.

The CFP requires an end to overfishing by 2020 at the latest, but the committee did not set a precise limit for the fishing of different species, which means fishing can happen within a range above or below the sustainable level advised by scientists.

The higher end of these ranges could lead to dangerous levels of overfishing, when nearly 50% of fish stocks in the North Sea are still overexploited.

This is the second multi-annual plan the EU will adopt under the revised CFP, which is looking less and less likely to meet its own requirement to end overfishing by 2020.

ClientEarth lawyer Flaminia Tacconi said: “The committee has voted to keep the option to overexploit fish stocks, which puts the success of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy at risk. Although some species in the North Sea have been recovering in recent years, more progress is needed to end overfishing in the North Sea. We must not fish above sustainable levels if we want to protect our marine life and have profitable fish stocks in the future.”

Multi-annual plans are intended to make sure fishing is carried out at sustainable levels. They must limit fishing to maximum sustainable yield (MSY) – that is the largest catch that can be taken from a species without long-term damage.

Maximum sustainable yield is a legal requirement and will ensure fish stocks remain healthy and productive for generations to come.

By clearly defining the term ‘best available scientific advice’ in the plan, the committee reinforced the rules under the CFP that fisheries management must be science-based.

The plan will now go to the European Parliament in September, where MEPs will have the chance to reject the use of dangerously wide ranges that can lead to overfishing and reaffirm their commitment to the CFP. We need an ambitious North Sea plan that will make fisheries more sustainable to protect our oceans and their marine life for the future.

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