Press release: 23 May 2022

ClientEarth to sue over illegally lax EU-UK fishing limits

ClientEarth lawyers have begun legal action over the unsustainable fishing limits that were agreed between the EU and the UK for 2022.

During their second round of post-Brexit negotiations, the parties gave fishers permission to make catches of fish stocks that have ‘zero-catch’ advice from scientists to try to bring them back from extinction. They set catch limits for many other stocks far higher than scientists recommended.

In Europe, 40% of stocks in the North-East Atlantic are still in bad shape - in breach of the EU’s missed legal deadline to end overfishing.

ClientEarth lawyers have filed an internal review request asking the Council to review its decision.

If the Council refuses to amend it, lawyers will ask the Court of Justice of the EU to rule.

ClientEarth fisheries lawyer Arthur Meeus said:

“We are challenging the fishing limits for the stocks shared between the EU and UK as they ignore the science and allow major overfishing – in breach of the law. This agreement is not only undermining the fragile health of our marine ecosystems, it is also eroding the capacity of the ocean to absorb carbon and mitigate climate change.

“Both the EU and the UK seem to have given up the vital and politically advisable objective of ending overfishing – this puts at risk the future of fishing activities, especially small-scale fisheries, and the survival of coastal communities.”

A recent report from the UK government’s marine and freshwater science experts concluded that for 2022, only 35% of the fishing limits adopted by the UK when negotiating with other parties – including the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands - were consistent with official scientific advice.

Meeus added:

“We hope this challenge will push both sides to put an end to short-sighted commercial interests over the medium to long-term survival of fish and fishers. We're borrowing from tomorrow’s fishers when we need to be setting them up for the future.”

Around 70 stocks – the majority of the stocks that used to be managed by the EU alone before Brexit – are now shared with the UK.

This internal review request follows a first request challenging EU-only stocks.

ClientEarth is also currently waiting for a ruling on a separate case, brought with Friends of the Irish Environment, on the validity of the EU’s 2020 fishing limits. The CJEU is set to rule on whether the EU’s decision was unlawful.


Notes to editors:
  • How far away are we from ending overfishing?

Despite some progress over the years, EU and UK fisheries ministers have missed the legal deadline they set for themselves to end overfishing by 2020.

According to our analysis, around one third of the 2022 fishing limits for stocks managed by the EU alone or shared between the EU and the UK – and covered by ClientEarth’s analysis included in the internal review request – were set above the scientific advice for sustainable fishing.

For some of these stocks in dire states, like Celtic Sea cod or Irish Sea whiting (mostly caught inadvertently, as ‘bycatch’), the EU and UK ignored the scientific advice for zero catch.

Almost all stocks of cod are in a dire state in Europe. The North Sea cod population for instance has dropped by an alarming 80% since 1970.

For more information on the 2022 fishing limits negotiations, watch this press conference held in November 2021.

You can also read our release about the results of EU-only and EU/UK fishing limits negotiations for 2022.

  • Further legal action on overfishing

In March 2022, we launched an internal review request challenging EU only stocks

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. While the French case is still pending, the Irish Court recently made the groundbreaking move to ask the Court of Justice of the EU to rule on the validity of the EU decision fixing fishing limits for 2020. If confirmed it is illegal, this could have significant impacts on the sustainability of future fishing limits.

See this piece for an explanation of how the law can be used to defend and regenerate fragile fish stocks.

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.