Press release: 8 February 2022
Legal first: CJEU must decide if ministers broke law with unsustainable fishing limits
In a legal first in the history of fisheries, the Court of Justice of the European Union has been called on to decide if EU ministers have illegally set unsustainable fishing limits.
This call, made today by the High Court of Ireland, follows a challenge by Friends of the Irish Environment (FIE) – supported by environmental law charity ClientEarth – to end overfishing after the EU missed its binding 2020 deadline.
Over the years, EU ministers have consistently been setting fishing limits for the next year far above what scientists have advised – collectively failing to meet their legal obligation to end overfishing by 2020.
In the 2019 December Council meeting of ministers, almost half of the Total allowable catches (TACs) analysed by ClientEarth for the North-East Atlantic were set above scientific advice.
Two years later, about a third of the TACs recently agreed for 2022 are still unsustainable – even as some species like West of Scotland and Celtic Sea cod continue to teeter on the verge of collapse.
ClientEarth fisheries lawyer Arthur Meeus said:
“For the first time in the history of the European Union, the highest European court is being brought in on a case to fight overfishing in the EU.
“This is a major turning point and a wake-up call for EU ministers – it is time for them to comply with their legal obligations and actually consider the catastrophic impact of their decisions on the future of fish and fishers.
“Ending overfishing by 2020 should not have been an empty promise – it was a legally binding deadline agreed on by all EU member states and institutions. Anyone who has contributed breaching it must be held accountable.”
With the support of legal NGO ClientEarth, FIE launched a legal action before the High Court of Ireland, questioning the validity of the regulation that set the total allowable catches for 2020.
Their goal was to get the judge to refer the case to the highest EU court – which they have now achieved. This case targets fishing limits for the year 2020, but a judgment confirming the regulation was indeed illegal would have consequences for all future regulations establishing fishing opportunities.
Friends of the Irish Environment Director Tony Lowes said:
“Years of overfishing have brought many stocks – like the Celtic Sea cod – to the brink. EU Ministers must stop ignoring the science and bring these vulnerable stocks back – it is vital to protect the ocean and ensure the survival of coastal communities across Europe.”
A hearing on this case is expected in a few months.
Notes to editors:
ClientEarth, Bloom and Défense des Milieux Aquatiques launched a similar case in France which is still pending.
Read ClientEarth’s reaction to EU ministers’ decision to continue overfishing in 2020 – in breach of the legal deadline.
In Europe, some species are particularly vulnerable, including all cod stocks. The North Sea cod population has dropped by an alarming 80% since 1970. Read this story for more information.
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.
ClientEarth has published a directory revealing the main culprits behind unsustainable fishing limits in the EU. Find out more.
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.
About Friends of the Irish Environment
Friends of the Irish Environment is a voluntary conservation charity founded in 2000 to create and maintain a network of conservationists and environmentalists in Ireland to ensure the protection of the natural environment and advance environmental justice through monitoring the implementation of, and working for changes in, the development of Irish and European law. Through Climate Case Ireland, its climate wing, the organisation had Ireland’s National Mitigation Plan under the Climate Act 2015 struck down by the Supreme Court in 2020 and is currently engaged in a number of cases from seeking legal aid for NGOs to challenging a proposed major Ring Road in Galway.