Blue NGOs urge Council ministers not to let fish become a distant memory - Oceana Europe

Blue NGOs urge Council ministers not to let fish become a distant memory

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Emily Fairless

Brussels – To mark World Fisheries Day, environmental NGOs created a visual reminder of how large and plentiful fish once were, outside the Council meeting of EU agriculture and fisheries ministers. NGOs urged the ministers and the Commissioner responsible for ocean and fisheries to return EU fish populations to their former abundance and finally end overfishing, by setting fishing opportunities in line with scientific recommendations. 

The action, “Missing Fish”, provides sensory reminders of the historical size and abundance of fish and recalls some of the most depleted populations in the Northeast Atlantic such as West of Scotland cod, Celtic Sea herring and Irish Sea whiting, as well as Mediterranean hake and eel. It takes place in the context of current negotiations to set catch limits for Northeast Atlantic fish stocks and restrict fishing effort in the Mediterranean in 2023. The agreed fishing opportunities will be adopted at next month’s agricultural & fisheries Council meeting in Brussels (12-13 December).  

Vera Coelho, Senior Director of Advocacy at Oceana in Europe said “Despite repeated EU and international commitments to end overfishing, it persists and dozens of European fish populations remain in a critical state. Ministers must treat fish as not just numbers but as a fundamental part of ocean life, on which we all depend. Rebuilding abundant fish populations will benefit fishers, marine life and ocean health – there is no good reason to keep delaying action.” 

Overfishing is the most serious threat to our ocean. It is the leading driver of marine biodiversity loss and critically undermines the resilience of fish and other wildlife to climate change. The EU has failed to meet the legal deadline to end overfishing by 2020, set in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and in UN Sustainable Development Goal commitments. Although the EU annually reaffirms its commitment to sustainable fishing, it continues to ignore the scientific advice  by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) when setting fishing quotas for several fish populations. Environmental NGOs are calling on EU decision makers to take a more precautionary and long-term approach to save our fish and marine ecosystems. Only sustainable and low-impact fisheries that put the health of fish stocks at their core will ensure fish for human consumption in the long run. 

“EU governments and the EU Commission must take urgent action to protect the ocean’s carbon system so that fish can carry out their vital role as carbon engineers – capturing, sequestering and storing carbon”, said Our Fish Programme Director Rebecca Hubbard. “With COP27 behind us and Montreal’s Biodiversity COP15 fast approaching, the EU must transform biodiversity and climate pledges into action by supporting ecosystem-based fisheries management as good carbon management, which will also bring great benefits in terms of ocean resilience and adaptation.” 

Year after year, over 20 Northeast Atlantic fish stocks are severely depleted and many others are overfished. Examples of these include western Baltic herring; Western Atlantic horse mackerel; and Celtic Sea whiting. But it is cod, an iconic and much-loved species, which is in a particularly dire state, with all stocks, from the North Sea to the west of Scotland, Irish Sea or Celtic Sea, at, or near, historically low levels. For most of these severely overexploited species, scientific advice from ICES recommends either a major reduction in catches or no catches at all. 

According to a European Commission report on the performance of the CFP from April 2022, 28% of assessed Northeast Atlantic fish stocks and 86% of those in the Mediterranean and Black seas remain fished above sustainable levels. Another recent report by ClientEarth highlights that the EU has made particularly poor progress in following scientific advice for data-limited stocks, and has been much less likely to follow its own recommendations to reduce catches compared to recommendations that support catch increases. 

“European eel is one of these data-limited stocks for which scientific advice is not followed. We have a critically-endangered species, with zero catch advice, and still fishing is allowed to continue in most of its geographical range. It is in breach of both fisheries and conservation objectives, and it has to stop before it is too late,” said Niki Sporrong, Senior Policy Officer & European Eel Project Manager at The Fisheries Secretariat. 

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Photos and videos from the event available here.

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