NEF: To end overfishing, EU Ministers should follow scientific advice

The New Economics Foundation reports, 9th December 2015: On the 14th and 15th of December, Ministers from EU Member States will meet to set Atlantic fishing quotas for 2016. These annual negotiations are extremely important for EU fisheries and Ministers have the opportunity to prevent overfishing and rebuild fish stocks in EU waters.

Unfortunately, so far they have not done so. Our research, recently published in the Journal of Marine Policy and featured in Nature, shows that while EU Ministers head into these negotiations with scientific advice in hand, over the past fifteen years they have set fishing quotas 20% above that advice.

Although these are closed-door negotiations, and we don’t know who says what, we analyse the outcomes to see who holds the quotas that are frequently set well above advice.

On average, Denmark and the UK negotiate the largest amount of quota above scientific advice — 90,000 and 77,000 tonnes, respectively. When we look at each country’s relative size of quota, it’s Spain and Portugal who negotiate the most above advice — 37% for both.

Source: G. Carpenter et al. Mar. Policy 64, 9–15 (2016)

Source: G. Carpenter et al. Mar. Policy 64, 9–15 (2016)

While there is no quota database to calculate equivalent figures for non-EU countries that negotiate shared quotas with the EU (eg. Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Russia), we do know that these negotiations are even more conflicted and sometimes breakdown entirely. Our research shows that they result in quotas exceeding advice by an even larger amount — 24% vs 19%.

There is a silver lining here: the amount by which quotas exceed scientific advice has gradually declined from 33% in 2001 to 7% in 2015. During this same period many fish stocks have reversed their decline in abundance and some are now increasing to sustainable levels.

We know that this kind of sustainable management is necessary for a thriving industry: larger fish populations could produce greater catches, jobs and profits.

So why do quotas continue to be set above scientific advice?

There is a great deal of intensive lobbying in advance of the negotiations and Ministers are keen to be seen as “winning” additional short-term quota for their fishing industry. Ministers often emerge from negotiations proclaiming, as then UK fisheries minister Richard Benyon did in 2013, that “I am delighted that we were able to secure the best possible deal for the UK fishing industry.”

Sometimes it’s argued that the fishing industry would go bankrupt if advised quota reductions were passed. But this is never actually demonstrated through even a simple impact assessment, evidence that is necessary because fishing fleets catch a mix of species and so the impact of any one quota reduction is minimised.

It’s also worth noting that even during this period of “tight” quotas gross profits are increasing and 2015 is forecast to be a record year for the industry.

What’s more, as many fish stocks are now showing signs of recovery, the scientific advice for 2016 is actually for small increases to fishing quotas — as it has been for the past few years. As expected, sustainable management and an effective quota system is rewarded.

In 2013 an ambitious reform package to the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy was passed that legislated an end to overfishing. Our work is far from finished as barriers to success still remain, and this issue of setting fishing quotas above scientific advice must end to make the reformed CFP a reality.

In putting pressure on the countries that are walking away from negotiations with the most quota set above scientific advice, we hope to help secure the best possible decision next week.

Source: New Economics Foundation, 9th December 2015. For further details, See

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