Tuesday

26th Oct 2021

EU failed to end overfishing by 2020: lost opportunity?

  • The EU could now even face court challenges from NGOs over its failure to end overfishing (Photo: Jason Taellious)

Environmentalists believe that the European Union is putting at risk the sustainability of fish stocks by putting the interests of the fishing industry ahead of the health of its waters.

During the 2013 reform of the EU's overarching fishing regulations, also known as the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), all member states committed to ending overfishing by 2015 - or by 2020 at the latest - to restore and protect all EU stocks in a sustainable way.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Yet, overfishing will continue this year in contravention of EU law.

In December, EU ministers gathered to establish fishing opportunities in the form of yearly 'total allowable catches' (TACs) and quotas by fish stocks in the different EU fishing areas, in what was expected to be the final step towards the legal obligation to end overfishing by 2020.

According to the new fisheries commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius, almost all fish landings from the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea would now come from sustainable resources.

Cod at risk

However, the deal struck in Brussels failed to meet targets recommended by scientists, who believe that key stocks such as cod, seabass, hake and herring are still overfished - and that, in particular, the cod population is still at critical levels.

Although ministers agreed on cod-fishing restrictions and new quotas that might mark a step in the right direction, environmental campaigners have denounced the EU's failure to comply with the legal deadline.

The agreement reached in December demonstrates "that fisheries ministers cannot be entrusted with restoring healthy ocean ecosystems," said Rebecca Hubbard, programme director at NGO Our Fish.

The group also denounced the fact that EU ministers have exceeded scientific advice six out of every ten times since the last EU's fishing law reform.

"By agreeing to continue overfishing, EU fisheries ministers are refusing to pull their weight in addressing the climate and biodiversity crises," Hubbard added.

According to Anne-Cécile Dragon, a maritime scientist at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), "it is fundamental for EU credibility, especially in the context of the European Green Deal and other looming environmental deadlines that the EU and its member states finally deliver on their promises".

Legal challenge?

One group even warned of a potential legal challenge to the agreement.

"This is not just a political failure. The deadline is a legal obligation and courts exist to enforce it," said Nick Goetschalckx, a lawyer at NGO ClientEarth, who believes that the European Parliament is in a "privileged position" to ensure that ending overfishing is now upheld.

"In the current state of an environmental emergency, we cannot continue to let political horse-trading turn laws and deadlines into a farce by finding ways around them as soon as they bite," he added.

However, when it comes to setting the annual quotas (TACs), "the EU parliament can only put pressure on the commission and the council to follow as closely as possible the scientific advice provided," an EU official told EUobserver.

According to Jenni Grossmann, policy advisor at ClientEarth, "everyone involved in the process, including the commission, EU fisheries ministers and the EU council, is to blame when fishing limits don't follow scientific advice".

Back in 2018, the European Environment Agency denounced overfishing, chemical pollution and climate change as among the main causes of the poor state of ecosystems in Europe's seas.

Magazine

EU fish wars ahoy

EU seas will contain "more" and "bigger" fish five years from now - if the fisheries committee does its job. But rows on post-Brexit rights could grab attention.

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.

Feature

Adriatic Sea 'risks turning into a water desert'

The Adriatic Sea risks turning into a water desert, experts warn. Overfishing, bottom trawling, pollution, and climate change are seriously threatening the biodiversity of the Adriatic.

EU's 2021 fishing quotas to exceed scientific advice

EU minister for fisheries have agreed on fishing opportunities for 2021, with provisional quotas for the fish stocks shared with the UK. However, experts warned that some of these quotas will lead to overfishing "with detrimental effects on fish populations".

EU faces long wait for full vaccine supplies

The EU is still several months away from having enough vaccines to inoculate its 450 million people, with Pfizer and BioNTech, its principle suppliers, aiming for September for delivery targets.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. How to break the political deadlock on migration
  2. Hedegaard on the hazards of stalling climate action
  3. Belarus exiles in EU fear regime-linked murderers
  4. No place for Polish 'war' rhetoric, Commission says
  5. Nine countries oppose EU gas market reform
  6. EU-UK impasse on top court in post-Brexit customs talks
  7. Erdoğan orders out US and EU ambassadors
  8. EU banks play 'major role' in deforestation, report finds

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us