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Taking stock 2023 – are TACs set to achieve MSY?

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Taking stock 2023 – are TACs set to achieve MSY?

This report, an update of the previous version published in 2022, assesses the progress made to date towards ending overfishing in the EU and the UK by 2020 at the latest, as agreed in the last reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 2013. The core analysis presented focuses on a subset of the Total Allowable Catches (TACs) agreed for the years 2015 to 2023 at the yearly December Council meetings, and for 2021, 2022 and 2023 also as part of the annual TAC negotiations between the EU and the UK, following the UK's departure from the EU.

On this basis, it identifies a number of key issues which the Commission, the Council, as well as individual Member States and the UK, will need to address as a priority to set TACs for 2024 and beyond in line with science and the law, including the CFP, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) between the EU and the UK, and the UK's fisheries legislation, and to allow all stocks to recover in line with the legal requirements. In particular, this report sets out to:

  • Assess the extent to which the agreed TACs follow the underlying scientific advice, and highlight any trends or patterns regarding issues where progress is still lacking, both for all stocks covered by the report overall, and split into EU only and EU/UK shared stocks (see section 4);
  • Summarise what we know about which topics the EU and UK appear to have been more or less environmentally progressive on throughout the negotiations for 2021, 2022 and 2023 shared TACs (see section 5);
  • Make recommendations for how decision-makers should address the outstanding issues identified by this report in order to ensure that their TAC decisions for 2024 and beyond are fully in line with the objectives and requirements of the CFP, the TCA and UK law (see key recommendations on p. 5 and at the end of sections 4 and 5).

Key findings include the following:

  • Progress since 2015 towards setting TACs in line with scientific advice has continued in in 2023 with regards to most assessed metrics, but overall has been insufficient, with one quarter of the assessed TACs still exceeding advice for 2023. While some TACs are on occasion set below the advice, genuine ecosystem-based TAC-setting across the board (including going sufficiently far below advice to maximise the recovery potential of depleted stocks and safeguard ecosystem functioning) still seems to be a long way off.
  • Despite some limited progress in more recent years, the EU and the UK have continued to follow advice less consistently for data-limited stocks subject to precautionary rather than MSY-based advice, even though the legal MSY objective applies to all harvested stocks. Similarly, TACs for bycatch stocks continue to be set more frequently and by a larger proportion above scientific advice than TACs for target stocks, even though the recent opinion by Advocate General Ćapeta in an ongoing court case on the CFP’s missed 2020 MSY deadline has confirmed that indeed this deadline applied to all stocks equally.
  • Documentation of and access to the actual negotiations, particularly relevant negotiation positions remains very limited, making it difficult to impossible to hold decision-makers accountable for unsustainable TAC-setting. The Specialised Committee on Fisheries set up under the TCA between the EU and the UK has picked up momentum throughout 2023 and started addressing a number of issues such as . However, other key issues, such as the guidelines for “special stocks” which were supposed to have been adopted already by July 2021, remain unresolved so far.
  • While the UK appears to have been more environmentally progressive on certain issues, such as factoring ecosystem needs like food supply for seabirds into the management of forage fish like sandeel, it still pushed for concerning approaches, such as the rollover of unsustainable bycatch TACs for stocks with scientific zero-catch advice, and an increased inter-area flexibility into the West of Scotland, posing risks for vulnerable bycatch stocks in the area. Meanwhile, the European Commission’s initial position on 2022 TACs for depleted bycatch stocks at least on occasion appeared to be closer to the scientific advice than the TACs that were ultimately agreed, but overall many depleted stocks have been subject to excessive TACs for all or most of the time series, without improvement.
  • EU decision-makers (at that point still including the UK) have failed to meet the 2020 deadline to end overfishing, and must do better going forward by setting sustainable TACs in line with science and the law for 2024 and beyond.

This report provides some key pointers to help the Commission, the Member States, the Council as a whole as well as the UK and its devolved administrations to focus their attention in this overdue push towards ending overfishing and implementing a genuine ecosystem-based approach to TAC-setting. Given that the majority of stocks previously falling under the December Council process are now shared between the EU and the UK, the recommendations presented in the report are also particularly relevant for the ongoing TAC negotiations between the EU and the UK.


Taking stock 2023 – are TACs set to achieve MSY? – Annex II

Taking stock 2023 – are TACs set to achieve MSY? – Annex III

Taking stock 2023 – are TACs set to achieve MSY? – Annex V

Taking stock 2022 – are TACs set to achieve MSY?

Taking stock 2021 – are TACs set to achieve MSY?

Taking stock 2020 – are TACs set to achieve MSY?