Tuesday

20th Nov 2018

That time again: Science vs. industry on EU fish quotas

  • How much fish will Europeans be allowed to catch next year? (Photo: Ross Thomson)

Discussions between EU countries on quotas are an annual feature of the EU's fishery policy.

“It's that time of the season again”, said a source close to the Luxembourg presidency of the Council, which represents national governments.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

On Thursday (22 October), European fisheries ministries will attempt to clinch a political deal on next year's fishing limits in the Baltic Sea. Fish quota for other seas will follow later this year.

It is an annual haggle over which country gets to catch how many of a selection of species.

It also prompts regular accusations from environmental organisations that fish quotas are set too generously, threatening the sustainability of stocks.

But change is on the horizon, and some voices say sustainability is increasingly becoming a factor in the talks.

Sustainable fishing: the MSY factor

In any case, EU politicians should pay more heed to the principle if they want to follow their own rules.

As of 2014, the EU's common fisheries policy has the official objective to introduce fish quota tied to the so-called Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) “by 2015 where possible, and by 2020 at the latest”.

MSY is a concept that says, for each fish species, there is a number of fish that can be caught without depleting the stock. It is based on projections from scientists.

The fish quota are determined by the EU member states, based on proposals from the EU Commission. The European Parliament is not involved.

Since 2010 the Commission has started to use MSY science to propose quotas, although not necessarily for all stocks. Of the 10 Baltic stocks that will be discussed on Thursday, seven proposed quota are based on MSY.

Oceana, an environmental lobby organisation, “urges EU fisheries ministers to rebuild Baltic stocks by applying science”, it said in a press release earlier this week.

“European fisheries ministers must stop ignoring scientific advice and definitely abandon the political short-term perspective”, Oceana said, noting that after 2020 “overfishing will become illegal under EU law”.

However, until then, other factors haven proven hard to ignore, since the obligation to use MSY “by 2015 where possible” is open to interpretation.

Economic factors

Ministers are under pressure from their national fishing industries not to accept too strict limits.

“Fishermen are facing a tough time”, said a press release of Europeche, a lobby organisation representing fishing companies.

“Our aim is to see healthy stocks at abundant levels and we want to see decision-makers reach a fair and realistic agreement for the Baltic plan which respects the legal framework and ensures the sector can continue to be viable.”

The EU presidency source noted that ministers cannot ignore these economic arguments.

“Ministers are indeed responsible to achieve sustainability”, he said. “Ministers are also responsible to take into account the economic and social consequences. The decision cannot be 100 percent based on science.”

“I'm sure we will have a political compromise that perhaps is not perfect from a purely scientific point of view, but which is politically, socially, economically realisable”, the contact added.

However, the source noted that “every year the pressure increases to approximate that objective” of science-based fish quota.

'Becoming the norm'

Last December, after all fish quota had been set, environmental commissioner Karmenu Vella said “science-based decision-making is increasingly becoming the norm rather than the exception”.

However, according to a calculation by Oceana, fisheries ministers still "ignored 56 percent of the scientific advice”.

Vella said that several member states were “not in the position” to accept the Commission's proposals, but that they would “take the necessary decisions so as to avoid real disasters happening later on”.

When this website asked the Commission what necessary decisions have been taken in the past 10 months, it received no response.

Meanwhile, the annual haggling could become a thing of the past, if member states can reach agreement with the European Parliament about a long-term plan for fishing in the Baltic.

The institutions need to reach a deal on the Commission-proposed “Multiannual plan for the stocks of cod, herring and sprat in the Baltic Sea and the fisheries exploiting those stocks.”

The idea is that longer-term plans give more certitude to the fishing industry on what they will be allowed to catch.

But the file has been stuck in the institutions’ so-called trilogue debates since May this year.

EU overpaid for fishing rights, auditor says

According to the European Court of Auditors, fish caught by European fishermen in the South Atlantic and Indian oceans cost almost €34 million more than necessary.

Taiwan could face EU fish ban

The European Commission issued a yellow card to Taiwan, as well as to the Comoros, over illegal and unregulated fishing. A decision on a ban will be taken in 6 months.

Agenda

First summit THIS WEEK for Italy's new PM

This week's EU summit in Brussels will feature debates on migration, counterterrorism, defence, Syria, Russia, and the EU-Ukraine treaty.

EU states continue to overfish

Quotas for 161 different stocks have been agreed, but for 34 of them ministers adopted higher quotas than the European Commission proposed.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary grants asylum to ex-Macedonia PM
  2. UK court rules against government in Article 50 case
  3. May to meet Juncker on Wednesday to finalise Brexit deal
  4. Future of EU's Mediterranean naval mission in doubt
  5. EU budget talks for 2019 collapse
  6. EU mulls new Russia sanctions over Ukraine 'elections'
  7. EU farm chief 'confident' sugar prices will recover
  8. Researcher: EU expert groups still imbalanced and opaque

Opinion

Crunch time to end overfishing in the EU

What happens when a difficult deadline hits? This is precisely what is being played out in EU fisheries as we approach the landmark legal commitment under the Common Fisheries Policy to end overfishing by 2020.

Opinion

No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected

Following the 2030 renewable target of 32 percent, chair of the European Parliament's environment committee Adina Valean argues in order to reach our climate and energy goals, we need both public and private investment over the next decade and beyond.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Boycott threats mount on eve of Interpol election
  2. EU parliament to renege on transparency promises
  3. Cyprus and Greece to create EU spy academy
  4. MEPs likely to delay vote on greater transparency
  5. Cold shoulder for Franco-German euro budget plan
  6. Whistleblower: Danske Bank gag stops me telling more
  7. Spain raises Gibraltar, as EU and UK talk post-2020 relationship
  8. Panic is not answer to EU's security challenges

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us