fish swimming

Widespread overfishing continues as new Commission report overstates progress

report released today by the European Commission paints a misleadingly positive impression of progress towards sustainable fishing, by glossing over the fact that progress has slowed or reversed in recent years.

Instead, the Commission focuses on long-term trends between 2003 and 2015, which have indeed been largely positive, with fishing pressure decreasing and fish stocks increasing in most areas, while the economic performance of the EU fishing fleet has improved significantly.

However, many stocks are still overfished and the already dire situation in the Mediterranean continues to deteriorate, while the legal 2020 deadline set for sustainable fishing levels in the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is fast approaching.

ClientEarth scientist Jenni Grossmann said: “A report which focuses on fewer than 70 out of 180-plus stocks is a weak basis for improving EU fisheries. Without reliable data on all the species which must be fished sustainably by 2020, we can neither assess whether we are on the right track, nor make sure we get there on time. The Commission’s failure to address the recent slowing down and reversal of progress conceals the clear message that at the current pace, we are sure to miss the deadline.

“The Commission’s commitment to sustainable fishing limits which follow the science is important. But this must translate to the real world. Later this year, all eyes will be on the Council of Ministers to make sure 2018 fishing quotas follow the law, instead of pursuing short-term interests over long-term gain. With only two years until the legal deadline to fish sustainably, we need massive progress without further delays if we’re to hit the cut-off date. There is no time to waste.”

The scientific analysis on which the Commission’s report is based confirms that as things stand, the EU is almost certain to miss the 2020 legal deadline for all harvested fish to be caught sustainably. As in previous years, the report also continues to overlook the huge proportion of fish stocks without full scientific assessments, even though the legal deadline applies to them as well.

This means that for the majority of stocks, we have no idea whether they are being fished sustainably – or even heading in the right direction – as is required by the CFP.

The Commission’s report plays a key role in ensuring and monitoring progress of EU fisheries management towards the CFP’s sustainability requirements. Despite its shortcomings, it has improved in places, as new indicators like biomass trends – plus a few additional species – have been included this year. However, monitoring and reporting must urgently be expanded to cover all harvested fish stocks which legally have to be caught sustainably by 2020. Without this information, we are fishing in the dark.

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Jakob Owens

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