Press release: 14 December 2021

EU ministers risk overfishing while fate of EU-UK shared stocks is still up in the air

The European Union has just set the fishing limits for EU-only stocks for 2022 in the North-East Atlantic. Experts at ClientEarth regret that EU fisheries ministers have once again pushed fishing limits beyond precautionary scientific advice for several data-limited stocks, like southern hake, pollack and Kattegat cod.

The exact status of these stocks is unknown, and ignoring precautionary advice risks overfishing them.

ClientEarth Science and Policy advisor for Fisheries Jenni Grossmann said:

“As usual, today fisheries ministers have once again ignored the precautionary scientific catch advice for some fish stocks with limited data, despite efforts from the Commission to move things in the right direction. This perpetuates the double standard of treating data-limited stocks with less caution and care than fully assessed data-rich stocks and goes directly against a key principle of EU and international law: the precautionary approach of being more cautious when you know less.

“Some countries like Spain and Portugal have been particularly vocal, for example on southern hake, questioning the science instead of following it. It’s not enough to listen to the science only where the stock status is well-known – going beyond precautionary advice risks overfishing.”

As for the stocks shared between the EU and the UK – the majority of which the EU used to manage on its own before Brexit – both parties have now missed the first deadline to reach an agreement on fishing limits for 2022 by the 10th of December. A likely hold-up in the negotiation is the debate about how to manage depleted stocks with advice for very low or zero catches.

Grossmann said:

“It is disappointing that, after already missing the 2020 deadline to end overfishing, the EU and the UK have missed yet another key deadline to agree on sustainable shared fishing limits for next year.

“This means the fate of several vulnerable shared stocks like Celtic Sea and West of Scotland cod, that scientists say shouldn’t be caught at all, is still hanging by a thread. British and European must return to the negotiation table and give these depleted stocks a decisive, long overdue nudge towards recovery, instead of keeping them on the brink.

“A healthy ocean that can serve as a key carbon sink and protect us from climate change needs healthy fish stocks. If the EU and the UK don’t follow the science and protect stocks, the price will be paid not only by fish and fishers but by all of us.”

The Brexit deal agreed only a year ago contains a second fall-back deadline, the 20th of December, for the EU and the UK to reach an agreement on shared fishing limits. If they miss that too, the default according to the Brexit deal will be for both sides to set unilateral provisional TACs in line with scientific advice.

In today’s decision, EU ministers already signed off on the EU’s provisional fishing limits that will apply for three months from 1 January 2022 if there is no deal by the 20th of December.


Notes to editors:

How far away are we from ending overfishing?

Despite some progress over the years, EU and UK fisheries ministers have flagrantly missed the legal deadline they set for themselves to end overfishing by 2020 – over 40% of the 2021 fishing limits ClientEarth analysed still exceeded scientific advice. A preliminary analysis of the 2022 results for EU-only stocks suggests limited progress this year, with many fishing limits for data-limited stocks still exceeding precautionary advice from scientists.

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

For more information on the 2022 fishing limits negotiations, and for more details on the dire state of some stocks, watch this press conference held in November 2021.

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.