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EU and UK turn their back on the most vulnerable fish

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On 20 December, the EU and UK reached an agreement on 76 catch limits for their shared fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic and North Sea for 2023. The agreement resulted in an increase in the number of catch limits (also known as Total Allowable Catches – TACs) set in line with scientific advice compared to last year. However, Oceana deplores that, despite international commitments to end overfishing by 2020, the EU and the UK still set fishing limits for a significant number of fish stocks that will see their continued overexploitation, particularly for the most depleted ones, jeopardizing their recovery.

“While both parties adhered to the science for some stocks, we deeply regret their inability to take the right decision for stocks in the poorest conservation state,” said Vera Coelho, senior director of advocacy at Oceana in Europe. “Not only did decision-makers disregard the zero catch scientific advice for the most heavily depleted stocks, such as West of Scotland cod, Irish Sea whiting, and Celtic Sea herring, they also continue to allow excessive incidental catches of these stocks by other fisheries - which will render their recovery to sustainable levels nearly impossible."

"Overfishing is decimating fish populations in UK and European Union waters. Cod numbers in the Celtic Sea, Irish Sea and off the west of Scotland have plummeted over the years and are at risk of collapse if urgent action isn't taken. The UK and EU continue to break their own fisheries laws, setting quotas above scientific advice and risking the long-term viability of the fishing industry, as well as driving the marine biodiversity crisis. Urgent action must be taken to allow fish stocks to recover, restore our marine ecosystems and ensure food security for future generations," added Hugo Tagholm, executive director, Oceana UK.

Background

Every year, the EU and the UK negotiate fishing limits for a large number of jointly managed fish stocks. Management decisions by both parties for their shared fish populations are guided by the objectives and principles agreed in the 2020 EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement (TCA).

Both the EU and the UK have a binding commitment to recover and maintain fish stocks at sustainable levels in domestic and international legislation, like the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, the UK Fisheries Act and the EU-UK TCA. However, in recent years parties have not respected this commitment when setting quotas for most of their shared stocks. Indeed, according to a report by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) [1], for the period 2020-2022 only 34%-35% of the TACs followed scientific advice.

Oceana recently published a report highlighting the dire state of the 25 most depleted fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic, calling on the EU and the UK to adopt catch limits for the ones for which they are accountable in line with scientific advice.

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[1] Bell, E., Nash, R., Garnacho, E., De Oliveira, J., O’Brien, C. (2022). Assessing the sustainability of fisheries catch limits negotiated by the UK for 2020 to 2022. CEFAS. 38 pp. 2 January 2022.

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