Press release: 25 March 2022

EU ministers to face legal action for greenlighting ‘flagrant’ overfishing

ClientEarth’s environmental lawyers are taking legal action against the EU Council of fisheries ministers for setting unsustainable fishing limits.

In Europe, 40% of stocks in the North-East Atlantic are still overfished despite a missed legal obligation to end overfishing by 2020.

The Council has greenlighted fishing for certain stocks at double the scientific guidelines. They also have given fishers permission to exploit fish stocks that have ‘zero catch’ advice from scientists to try to bring them back from extinction.

ClientEarth lawyers are directly challenging all EU countries at once – via the Council – as they are collectively responsible for perpetuating overfishing. It is the first time fishing limits will be challenged directly at EU level, thanks to the new EU rules on access to justice.

ClientEarth fisheries lawyer Arthur Meeus said:

“We are taking legal action to stop EU ministers consistently allowing rampant overfishing. These short-sighted policies are putting at risk the future of our fishing industry and the survival of coastal communities.

“Poorly considered fisheries policy is also undermining the fragile balance of our ocean – one of the biggest carbon sinks of the planet – and its capacity to mitigate climate change.

“If ministers don’t follow the science and protect stocks, the price will be paid not only by fish and fishers but by all of us.”

ClientEarth has filed an internal review request asking the Council to review the decision that sets fishing limits above the scientific advice, in breach of EU law.

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

Meeus added:

“This case is about holding EU fisheries ministers collectively responsible for illegally setting unsustainable fishing limits. We want to make sure they stop ignoring science and the law and focus on what will actually serve and protect us and future generations.”


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.

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

    For some of these stocks in dire states, like Celtic Sea cod or Irish Sea whiting mostly caught as bycatch, the EU and UK ignored the scientific advice for zero catch. For pollack – fished in the Bay of Biscay and Atlantic Iberian waters –  the limit agreed is almost twice the scientific advice, exceeding it by 950 tonnes

    The North Sea cod population has dropped by an alarming 80% since 1970. Read our piece to know more about the fate of this iconic ‘fish and chips’ fish.

    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.

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

    Some countries like France and Ireland have been pushing for limits above the scientific advice. Find out more about the culprits behind unsustainable fishing limits in the EU.

  • Further legal action on overfishing

    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.