Press release: 13 December 2022

Annual fishing scandal: EU ministers gamble away future of critically endangered eel and other fish stocks

In a move that could spell the end for critically endangered eels, EU ministers have refused to close all eel fisheries, as part of their annual setting of fishing limits in the North East Atlantic.

ClientEarth experts, who have decried the 'annual scandal' of fisheries ministers setting fishing limits higher than scientists advise, say the decision, along with limits for other vulnerable species is doubly baffling as it comes as EU leaders proclaim their commitment to biodiversity at COP15 in Montreal.

ClientEarth Fisheries science and policy advisor Jenni Grossmann said:

“Scandals shouldn’t become predictable. EU ministers are currently in court for allowing overfishing – yet they have chosen once again to ignore the law and prioritise maximising catches today over safeguarding our most vulnerable stocks.

“This time, their science-defying reluctance to close all eel fisheries might well turn out to be the final nail in the coffin of this critically endangered species.

“Every year, fisheries ministers ignore increasingly dire warnings, set excessive quotas, experts react with dismay, and the cycle begins again next December. The longer they do this, the more stocks will end up classed as vulnerable, endangered or worse – it’s not rocket science. This year, the timing is particularly poignant: all this flies in the face of leaders’ proclaimed ambitions to protect biodiversity at COP15 this week.”

Earlier this year, ClientEarth took all EU ministers to court for setting unsustainable limits for one third of EU only and EU-UK shared stocks – in violation of their long missed legal objective to end overfishing by 2020.

While EU ministers have agreed on limits for EU only stocks, the EU and UK agreement for shared stocks is yet to be finalised. It includes limits for depleted stocks like cod in the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and West of Scotland and Irish Sea whiting which remain at historically low levels following many years of mismanagement.

Grossmann said: “We are still waiting for the final outcome so we can only hope that it will be the long overdue quantum leap towards sustainability that our ocean so desperately needs.”


Notes to editors:

In October 2022, ClientEarth took all EU fisheries ministers to court for allowing unsustainable fishing limits for EU only and EU-UK shared stocks in the North-East Atlantic.

This is the first time ClientEarth lawyers are directly challenging all EU fisheries ministers via the Council thanks new EU access to justice rules.

Before the reform of EU access to justice rules was completed in 2021, lawyers had launched other indirect challenges to the Council for breaching the EU’s legal obligation to end overfishing by 2020.

For example, two years ago, ClientEarth lawyers joined with local NGOs to launch two other cases challenging the national implementation of the 2020 EU fishing limits regulation, in France and in the Republic of Ireland. The Irish Court recently made the ground-breaking move to ask the Court of Justice of the EU to rule on the legality of the EU decision fixing fishing limits for 2020. The French case is still pending.

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.