Many CFP 2017 fishing limits set too high, says ClientEarth

ClientEarth, the legal consultancy, reports, 14th December 2016: Over-fishing remains a serious threat to the ocean and to industry, as EU Fisheries Ministers once again set quotas with little regard for the law or scientific advice.

The annual limits (quotas, also known as Total Allowable Catch/TAC) cover fish in the North East Atlantic and North Sea, which supply 70% of fish caught in the EU.

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) legally requires fishing to be at sustainable levels by 2020 at the latest. For some stocks, Ministers followed scientific advice, setting catch limits at the right level. But in some cases, they ignored it, allowing over-fishing to continue.

The catch limits for all fish stocks in the Irish Sea, except herring, were set too high. Quotas for Irish Sea plaice and haddock were set 152% and 61% higher than scientific advice, respectively.

Scientists had advised a 22% cut for haddock, but instead Ministers increased the quota by 25%. Although these stocks have been improving, over-fishing them now could jeopardise recovery.

For three other Irish Sea stocks — cod, whiting and sole — scientists have been calling for zero catch for several years, yet Ministers continue to award quota for these vulnerable stocks.

It is often hard to tell if Ministers are following science and the law, because for most fish stocks there is a mismatch between the area covered by the fishing quota and the area covered by the scientific advice.

ClientEarth scientist Liane Veitch said: “While some of the 2017 catch limits are based on EU fisheries laws and sound science, many do not go far enough. Some quotas allow for serious over-fishing.

“The CFP requires immediate action to make fishing more environmentally sound, with 2020 as the legal deadline for all fishing to be sustainable, without exception.

“With three years to meet the deadline, there is no time to waste. We must follow the science to set sustainable fishing limits, then stick to them.”

Source: ClientEarth press release, 14th December 2016. For the full details, see


Marinet Observes: The key questions are:

  • Are the fishing quotas (TACs) complying with scientific advice?
  • If not, which are the offending quotas, and for which stocks and in which fishing areas?
  • And what is the reason for non-compliance because although non-compliance is not “technically” illegal until 2020 there has to be a good, justifiable reason for non-compliance.

The scale of non-compliance for 2017 still needs to be calculated by NGO fisheries experts, but it is already clear that it is re-occurring in 2017. This year (2016) non-compliance affected over 50% of EU North East Atlantic stocks, and the UK was the worst offender in terms of the tonnage of fish caught that exceeded scientific advice.

The difficulty in knowing the exact number of quotas being set beyond scientific advice is, as ClientEarth observes, due to the fact that the EU sets quotas for stocks using differently defined geographical area boundaries from those used by the scientists (ICES). This means the exact catch levels and areas are not strictly comparable — a handy device when trying to escape legal obligations.

ClientEarth observes, “In order to ensure that European fisheries management is sustainable and that policy decisions are taken in line with the law, it is crucial to monitor whether TACs are in line with the CFP’s requirements, in particular the progress towards achieving the fundamental MSY objective.
“Comprehensive and reliable TAC analyses comparing the proposed and final TACs with the
underlying scientific advice provided by ICES are a vital element of this monitoring process.
“However, there are a range of obstacles to such analyses, making effective monitoring difficult. Many of these problems are related to a lack of transparency regarding data and other information used throughout the decision-making process.
Mismatch between the areas for which TACs are set and the areas for which the scientific advice is provided is a particularly prevalent example. The majority of North-East Atlantic TACs are subject to such mismatch issues, while the data needed to solve them are not readily available to the public.”

Therefore, Marinet asks, who is prepared to take these tricky practices into a court of law and test them for their legality? Unless we do, the CFP Reforms of 2014 are essentially meaningless and the path to restoring health to our seas is continually being thwarted. Marinet would like to hear from anyone interested in legal action.

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