Press release: 22 December 2021

EU-UK agreement on fishing limits is bad news for vulnerable fish stocks

The European Union and United Kingdom have just reached an agreement for catch limits on their shared fish stocks for 2022 – the majority of fish stocks the EU used to manage on its own before Brexit.

Experts at ClientEarth regret that both parties have kept on ignoring the warning bells scientists have been sounding for years for vulnerable stocks on the verge of collapse – like West of Scotland and Celtic Sea cod, and Irish Sea whiting.

ClientEarth science and policy advisor for fisheries Jenni Grossmann said:

“Today’s agreement between the EU and the UK should have been the beginning of a new post-Brexit era of truly sustainable, science-based fisheries management across the board. But instead of giving vulnerable stocks like Celtic Sea and West of Scotland cod a decisive nudge towards recovery, British and European decision-makers chose to keep them on the brink.

These stocks of cod and other species that are often taken as bycatch have been in a dire state for decades and the recurring scientific advice for zero catches has never been followed. Less than 3,000 tonnes of adult cod are left in the Celtic Sea and less than 3,500 tonnes in the West of Scotland, according to the latest scientific advice – compared to over 20,000 and 30,000 tonnes respectively at their peak in the 1980s.

Grossmann added:

“Just like in pre-Brexit times, they have continued to prioritise short-term commercial interests over long-term sustainability for both fish and fishers – perpetuating the dire state of these depleted stocks.

“A healthy ocean that can serve as a key carbon sink and protect us from climate change needs healthy fish stocks. Both the EU and UK must now urgently put in place effective, ambitious measures to rebuild depleted stocks. If they fail to do so, the price will be paid not only by fish and fishers but by all of us.”

Despite some progress over the years, EU and UK fisheries ministers 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.


Notes to editors:

How is the EU-UK fishing deal linked with the Brexit agreement?

With this deal, both parties have agreed on the total amount that can be caught in 2022 of shared fish stocks between the EU and the UK. The Brexit agreement details the percent share of these fishing limits allocated to British and EU fishers. Over time, the share of quotas for EU fishers will be diminished in favour of British fishers, as specified in the Brexit agreement.

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 2022.

On December 14, EU ministers set their 2022 fishing limits for the stocks managed by the EU alone. Read our release.

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.