Press release: 18 December 2019

EU ministers’ decision to keep overfishing could face legal challenge, lawyers say

Lawyers from environmental NGO ClientEarth have warned that European fisheries ministers’ decision to set unsustainable fishing limits for 2020 breaches EU law and could result in legal action.

In a landmark Council meeting today, European ministers have missed the EU’s legal deadline to end overfishing by ignoring scientific advice and setting unsustainable Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for several stocks in the Northeast Atlantic.

Alarmingly, this includes several vulnerable stocks, like Irish Sea whiting and cod in the west of Scotland and in the Celtic Sea, that are in a dire state.

Scientists have been advising, in some cases for almost two decades, that there should be no catches of these stocks but ministers have continued to ignore this advice and failed to put these stocks back on track to recovery.

ClientEarth fisheries lawyer Nick Goetschalckx said:

“It was the collective responsibility of EU fisheries ministers to make sure that this year’s fishing quotas are fully in line with the legal deadline to end overfishing by 2020, but they failed to deliver.

“This is not just a political failure. The deadline is a legal obligation and Courts exist to enforce it. In this regard, we think the European Parliament is in a privileged position to ensure that the Common Fisheries Policy’s requirement to end overfishing is upheld.”

“In the current state of environmental emergency, we cannot continue to let political horse-trading turn laws and deadlines into a farce by finding ways around them as soon as they bite.”

Despite the looming 2020 deadline, European fisheries ministers have continued year after year to set unsustainable fishing limits in closed-door meetings, ignoring science and the law.

A recent ClientEarth report shows that, over the last five years, countries like Ireland, France and Spain have repeatedly pushed for unsustainable fishing limits, while others, including Germany and the Netherlands, have failed to stop them.

Due to the lack of transparency around the process, as recently confirmed by the European Ombudsman, it has been notoriously difficult to hold anyone to account for these decisions.

Goetschalckx added: “Six years ago, the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council followed the call of European citizens to put sustainability at the heart of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy, by vowing to end overfishing by 2020. At today’s December Council meeting, EU fisheries ministers broke not just their promises, but the law. This failure should not be without legal consequences.”

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.