Press release: 3 June 2021

EU-UK deal on fishing limits must pass the reality check on the water

Experts at environmental law charity ClientEarth have reacted to the first agreement on Northeast Atlantic fishing limits between the European Union and the United Kingdom since Brexit.

In the long-awaited deal reached last night after months of back and forth, EU and UK negotiators agreed to set limits in line with scientific advice to secure the healthy recovery of most fish stocks. However, while the final figures are not public yet, it is already clear that they have not followed the advice not to catch some stocks at all, like Celtic Sea and West of Scotland cod and Irish Sea whiting, which continue to be in historically bad shape.

ClientEarth Fisheries Science and Policy Advisor Jenni Grossmann said:

“This first post-Brexit deal on fishing limits is setting the tone for the future fisheries management and collaboration between the EU and the UK. It is a test case to see whether they are ready to honour the only 6-month old Trade and Cooperation Agreement as well as their international commitments to secure healthy oceans.

“Based on the provisional fishing limits both sides have set, most of them seem to follow the science - but the devil is in the detail as the fate of some fish stocks, including several with scientific advice for zero catch, hangs by a thread. The EU and the UK chose not to follow this advice, and time will tell if remedial measures alone will bring about the much-needed recovery for these stocks – and how both parties will react if they don’t. We will be following that closely.

”Both parties urgently need to step up efforts to ensure proper control and monitoring. This is crucial to put an end to illegal fishing and illegal discards of fish at sea, which distort scientific assessments of the real state of stocks and put at risk ocean health, alongside other pressures like the impacts of climate change.”

Both the EU and the UK have mostly banned ‘discarding’, the wasteful practice of throwing unwanted catches back into the sea. Therefore, fishing limits are now set much higher than if there was no ‘discard ban’, to allow fishers to land what they would otherwise have thrown overboard. However, it is widely recognised that this still happens. This reality torpedoes the sustainability of the agreed fishing limits.

“We need to make sure that fishing limits and any other measures do not just look good on paper, but are actually respected on the water in order to deliver sustainable fisheries as required by law and promised by politicians time and time again,” Grossmann added.

“Fishing limits are currently set assuming that everybody plays by the rules – but while throwing dead fish back into the ocean is now largely illegal under EU and UK law, it’s still happening at sea. To ensure actual catches are sustainable, the EU and the UK need proper fisheries control and monitoring. Tools such as remote electronic monitoring can help fill the compliance gap. The European Parliament recently proposed to make Remote Electronic Monitoring mandatory on all vessels above 12 meters that are at high risk of discarding; a proposal Member States should endorse.”


Notes to editors:

The fishing limits for the EU in the North East Atlantic were set in December 2020. More info here.

The fishing limits for the North Sea between the EU, Norway and UK were set in March 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.