Press release: 14 November 2019

Report blames key EU countries for unsustainable fishing limits

Over the last five years key EU countries have actively pushed for unsustainable fishing limits in the North East Atlantic and other countries have failed to stop them, a new report from environmental law charity, ClientEarth reveals.

The report picks out France, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, Portugal and Denmark as those countries behind the drive for unsustainable limits.

Every December, fisheries ministers from across the EU meet to set the fishing limits, or ‘Total Allowable Catches’ (TACs) for the next year. And every time so far, they have gambled with the future of fish stocks and fisheries by setting most of these TACs above scientific advice, according to ClientEarth.

In 2013, as part of the last reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament agreed to end overfishing by 2020 at the latest, in order to restore all stocks above healthy levels capable of producing the ‘maximum sustainable yield’ (MSY).

But a ClientEarth report published today highlights that progress towards that legal MSY deadline has been too slow, pointing at the main culprits for this failure, and making key recommendations that decision-makers now need to follow to meet the CFP’s sustainability requirements.

ClientEarth Science and Policy advisor Jenni Grossmann said:

“Less than two months before the 2020 deadline, it is time to take stock: progress towards setting fishing limits in line with science and the law has been way too slow. Many stocks remain overfished, yet decision-makers keep setting unsustainable fishing limits above scientific advice year after year.

“Where information on the health of fish stocks is still limited, decision-makers should have been more precautionary – but our report shows they have done the opposite.

“Everyone involved in the process, including the Commission, individual EU fisheries ministers and the Council as a whole, is to blame when fishing limits don’t follow scientific advice. Anyone who pushes for higher quotas, or fails to prevent others from doing so, is a culprit or at least complacent.

This year’s December Council will show if they are serious about ending overfishing, or will continue to prioritise short-term socio-economic interests over long-term sustainability for both the ocean and the fishers that depend on it.”

Fisheries ministers have already started their next round of negotiations behind closed doors, based on the recently published Commission’s proposal for 2020, which gives some reason for hope, but still does not follow scientific advice across the board.

At this crucial stage, ClientEarth’s report takes a closer look at a number of key issues that the Commission and the Council, as well as individual Member States, will need to address as a priority to meet the 2020 deadline and allow all stocks to recover.

Grossmann added:

“EU decision-makers have so far failed to beat the 2020 deadline, but it is not too late to meet it by setting sustainable TACs in line with science and the law in 2019.”

The Council of EU fisheries ministers is expected to reach a final agreement on the TACs for 2020 on 17 December 2019.


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.