Tuesday

29th Nov 2022

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Investigation

Asbestos — two to three times more deadly than known

Where once working men in heavy industry were diagnosed with cancers related to a more direct exposure to asbestos, now women in professions such as teaching, nursing and other occupations are being diagnosed, as well as young people.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. Post-COP27 optimism — non-Western voices are growing
  2. Legal scholars: Prosecuting Putin 'legally problematic'
  3. A missed opportunity in Kazakhstan
  4. EU's Hungary funds, China, energy, and Frontex This WEEK
  5. Sweden says 'no' to EU asylum relocation pledges
  6. The 'proof' problem with EU sanctions — and how to fix it
  7. The EU gas cap: will the bottle ever be 'uncorked'?
  8. Enough talk, only rights can eliminate patriarchal violence

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us