Media comment: 17 December 2020

First EU fishing limits post-Brexit miss the mark on sustainability – ClientEarth

Fisheries experts at environmental law charity ClientEarth have said the agreement reached today by EU ministers on fishing limits for 2021 in the Northeast Atlantic still falls short of what is needed.

This was the first Fisheries Council meeting held without the United Kingdom since it took the decision to leave the EU.

ClientEarth Fisheries Science and Policy Advisor Jenni Grossmann said:

“Today, EU fisheries ministers had a chance to raise the bar for the negotiations with the UK by setting all EU fishing limits in line with science and the law. But instead of doing what's needed to finally fulfil the EU’s own sustainability ambitions, they stopped a considerable way short.

“Based on our initial analysis, many fishing limits were still set above advice, despite the Commission’s efforts to move things in the right direction. Examples include several stocks like southern hake, pollack in the Bay of Biscay and Atlantic Iberian waters and Kattegat cod. For all these stocks, data are limited and more caution is needed. 

“This is not good enough. One year after missing the legal deadline to end overfishing, the Council has once again set many limits above the scientific advice, jeopardising stock recovery.”

Until the Brexit agreement is finalised, the EU and UK cannot formally negotiate mutual limits on shared stocks – so interim measures are needed.

However, many of the EU’s provisional limits to bridge the gap for the first quarter of 2021 are already too high. This means bigger cuts will be necessary further down the line to respect the science. It also raises questions about how shares will be reallocated retrospectively. 

Grossmann said: “Fishing limits for many vulnerable and depleted stocks like Celtic Sea cod and Irish Sea whiting are yet to be negotiated between the EU and UK, and there is no guarantee that sustainability will be prioritised in these negotiations either.

“Today’s decision falls short of the EU’s own rules and puts fish stocks in unnecessary danger. Both the EU and the UK will now have to step up their game in the weeks to come.”

Ending overfishing – why science-based limits must be paired with reliable monitoring and control

Setting fishing limits in line with scientific advice on total catches is not enough to guarantee sustainable fishing, as long as illegal discards continue.

In a press conference given by environmental NGOs on Monday ahead of the December Council, ClientEarth Fisheries Science and Policy Advisor Jenni Grossmann explained why illegal discards in combination with catch-based fishing limits could lead to overfishing.

“Fishing limits are currently set assuming that everybody plays by the rules – that is, that, with certain permitted exemptions, all fishers are landing all the fish they catch. In reality, compliance with the discard ban remains poor. This means that the EU is ‘topping up’ fishers’ quotas to cover the ‘duds’ they now have to bring back to shore – but if fishers aren’t sticking to the discard ban, essentially they could carry on with business as usual but with even higher catch quotas. This is like cheating on a diet. It’s not the way to end overfishing.

“Treat with caution what you hear from decision-makers about the sustainability of the fishing limits agreed today. Everyone craves a success story, but turning a blind eye on illegal discarding is not the way forward.

“As long as compliance cannot be guaranteed, for example through tools such as remote electronic monitoring, it must not be taken for granted. The way fishing limits are set and allocated needs to factor in illegal discards to reflect the reality of what is happening at sea.”

You can watch the replay of the press briefing here



About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.