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25th Sep 2022

EU overfishing to continue until 2034 at current trend

The European Union's fleets will continue to overfish until 2034, unless states take a wholly different approach to setting annual quotas, according to a new estimate.

EU states agreed that by 2020 all fish stocks - i.e. species in a certain area - should be caught sustainably. That means that only the amount of fish is caught that scientists think will not disrupt the species' ability to reproduce.

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  • Fishermen have quota for each year, but ministers are often not following scientific advice (Photo: Erik Christensen, Porkeri - Norden.org)

Earlier this month, EU fisheries ministers agreed on the quota for 2017.

Slovak minister Gabriela Matecna, who chaired the negotiations in Brussels, said talks were tough.

“Sustainability has been the driver of today's agreement: the sustainability of our fish stocks, but also that of our fisheries sector,” she said.

Matecna pointed out that the fish quota for 44 stocks are in line with scientific advice, up from 36 last year.

Indeed, the number of stocks fished sustainably is rising, but not fast enough.

Brussels-based environmentalist lobby group Oceana calculated for EUobserver how long it would take before all fish stocks were at sustainable levels, and found it would be by 2034 – 14 years after EU countries are legally required to have reached that goal.

In fact, the actual target year was 2015.

The regulation on the EU's Common Fisheries Policy said that the EU's policy “shall aim to ensure that exploitation of living marine biological resources restores and maintains populations of harvested species above levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield”.

In other words: that the EU shall not overfish.

It also said that sustainability “shall be achieved by 2015 where possible and, on a progressive, incremental basis at the latest by 2020 for all stocks”.

There is no legal definition of who determines if sustainable quotas are “possible”.

In practice, this means that many fisheries ministers can claim that it was not possible for them to commit to sustainable fishing limits citing economic concerns.

Member states are autonomous in deciding the fishing quotas, with no role for the European Parliament.

It has become something of an annual dance, which can be summed up like this: the European Commission proposes fishing limits based where possible on scientific advice; member states haggle and decide to overfish; environmentalist groups are outraged.

After this year's to-and-fro, green lobby group Seas At Risk said the 44 stocks was “a shy step forward”.

“Fisheries ministers are running out of time,” it said.

“Fisheries Ministers are not doing the fishing industry any favours by stalling on the requirements of the Common Fisheries Policy. The longer this decision is delayed, the harder the cut will be at that point, and the longer it will take those stocks to recover to abundant levels that will allow increased quotas and enhanced profits,” Seas at Risk said.

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.

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.

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