NEF reports EU still fishing at levels beyond scientific advice

The New Economics Foundation reports, April 2017 : Fisheries ministers risk damaging our natural resources beyond repair by consistently setting fishing limits above scientific advice. This is our third year running of a series of briefings to identify which member states are standing in the way of more fish, more profits, and more jobs for European citizens.

Food for an additional 89 million EU citizens. An extra €1.6 billion in annual revenue. Over 20,000 new jobs across the continent. Far from being a pipe dream, all of this could be a reality if we paid more attention to one of Europe’s most significant natural resources — our seas.

If EU waters were properly managed — with damaged fish stocks rebuilt above levels that could support their maximum sustainable yield (MSY) — we could enjoy their full potential within a generation.

Every year, fisheries ministers have an opportunity to make this a reality when they agree on a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for commercial fish stocks. Scientific bodies, predominantly the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), provide information about the state of most stocks and recommend maximum catch levels. But for many years, this scientific advice has not been respected.

Our historical analysis of agreed TACs for all EU waters between 2001 and 2016 shows that, on average, 7 out of every 10 TACs were set above scientific advice. Whilst the percentage by which TACs were set above advice declined throughout this period (from 42% to 12%), the proportion of TACs set above advice did not.

The reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) that entered into force in 2014 aims to restore and maintain populations of fish stocks above levels capable of supporting the MSY. The corresponding exploitation rate was to be achieved by 2015 where possible and by 2020 at the latest for all stocks.

Following scientific advice is essential if we are to achieve this goal, end over-fishing, and restore fish stocks to healthy levels.

The negotiations over TACs are held by the Agricultural and Fisheries configuration of the Council of Ministers. These negotiations are not public, only their outcomes. This lack of transparency means that ministers are not on the hook when they ignore scientific advice and give priority to short-term interests that risk the health of fish stocks.

This briefing, a continuation of the Landing the Blame series, reveals which Member States and ministers are behind decisions that go against the EU’s long-term interests. This outcome is accomplished by analysing the outcomes of the negotiations and calculating which Member States end up with TACs above scientific advice. The key assumption is that these Member States are the main drivers of over-fishing, either because they were actively pushing for fishing limits to be set above scientific advice, or they failed to prevent it from taking place.


Source: New Economics Foundation, April 2017. For further details see

and to read the NEF report, Landing the Blame, Overfishing in the Atlantic 2017 click here


Marinet observes: This lamentable state of affairs — continued over-fishing by the EU on a widespread basis and repeatedly year after year — is made worse by three things.

First, the United Kingdom is foremost in terms of culpability, landing the highest annual tonnage of over-fished catch, and it has done so now repeatedly in consecutive years. So, this behaviour is clearly not accidental.

Second, the meeting of Fisheries Ministers in December of each year which sets these over-fishing catch levels is conducted in private. The public is excluded. Thus there is no democratic accountability in this decision-making. Given that the Ministers have repeatedly been requested to make these meeting public, this is not accidental either.

Third, this situation — serial over-fishing year after year — is arguably illegal, and this illegality is being perpetrated by the EU Governments themselves. Thus those charged with making the law are also those who are breaking the law. What does that tell you about governance in the EU and its member nations?

Which leads Marinet to a fourth point which no one in the environmental movement appears prepared to countenance. This point is:

If this setting of fishing levels beyond scientific advice is illegal under the Common Fisheries Policy (compliance of fishing levels with maximum sustainable yield [MSY] based on scientific advice is required by the CFP from 2015 onwards, with only deviations from this requirement on an exceptional basis until 2020 — serial over-fishing at levels of 60% of stocks repeatedly year after year is not an “exceptional” circumstance), then why is no organisation in the environmental movement taking steps to challenge the EU Governments in Court?

The UK’s own serial over-fishing could be challenged in the UK Courts.

Marinet has approached the main UK marine NGOs with an offer to work with them to bring a legal challenge. All have declined. As a result, this illegal state of affairs remains unarrested.

Marinet is prepared to work with others to research and prepare the evidence for a legal challenge — using such material as the NEF Reports for the past three years — and to work with others to gather the finance. However, there are no takers.

The question therefore is not just why our Government is prepared to brazenly break the law on a repeated basis, but also why the environmental movement is not prepared to step up to the mark and to perform its duty to the natural world and to our society by bringing this illegality into a Court and so secure its conviction?

If anyone knows the answer, or indeed wants to correct the situation described here, please get in touch.


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