Media reaction: 15 June 2023

EU top court adviser backs NGOs claims that unsustainable fishing limits are illegal

ClientEarth and Friends of the Irish Environment are heartened after the EU’s top court adviser recommended that governments set all fishing limits at sustainable levels from now on – following a legal challenge by both organisations.

In Europe, one third of North-East Atlantic commercial fish stocks are still overfished, as are 76% of fish stocks in the Mediterranean and a large proportion of Baltic stocks. This is mostly due to the EU Council’s decisions to exceed urgent scientific advice when setting the annual fishing limits and quotas for EU seas.

In an Opinion released today, Advocate General Capeta has called on the Court of Justice of the EU to set a precedent and declare unsustainable fishing limits “from 2020” invalid.

The Advocate General stated that the decision to set unsustainable fishing limits for vulnerable fish stocks like cod, Irish Sea whiting and plaice above the scientific advice was illegal, as it breached the legal deadline to end overfishing by 2020 in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

As AG Capeta noted in her opinion, the Council dealt with the issue of overfishing “in a way similar to the ‘no more chocolate from Monday’ promise; because, if Monday is not understood as a fixed deadline, one will keep eating chocolate and Monday will never come.”

ClientEarth lawyer Arthur Meeus said:

“This Opinion is a strong signal for the preservation of our marine biodiversity, which is fundamental in our fight against climate change, but also for the long term survival of the fishing sector itself.

“While we wait for the final judgment, we hope that this will be a wake-up call for European decision-makers. Many vulnerable fish stocks in EU seas are on the brink of collapse, with disastrous consequences for fishers and coastal communities. The Advocate General reminds us that “business as usual” is not an option anymore.”

Friends of the Irish Environment Director Tony Lowes said:

“We look forward to the final judgment of the Court. If the Court confirms this Opinion, it is critical that the Government is prepared to consider how they can provide support during the transition time – before strict enforcement of quotas will allow stocks to recover, ensuring the long term viability of our coastal communities and fishing industry.’

A judgment in this case is expected this Autumn.


Notes to editors:

In 2020, Friends of the Irish Environment and ClientEarth challenged the EU Council’s decision to set limits for several fish stocks above sustainable levels before an Irish Court.

In a legal first, the Irish judge asked the Court of Justice of the EU to judge on the validity of this European regulation setting fishing limits in the North-East Atlantic. The Advocate General’s opinion follows a hearing held last March.

Friends of the Irish Environment and ClientEarth were supported in this case by Fred Logue, James Devlin and John Kenny.

ClientEarth is also expecting hearings this year for two other cases launched in 2022 against the EU Council for the setting of unsustainable fishing limits for EU-only stocks and stocks shared between the EU and the UK.

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.