As Commission acknowledges overexploitation in over 2/3 of european fish stocks, Oceana urges decision makers to set future TACs based on scientific advice

International marine conservation organization unveils risk maps showing scope of fisheries managed without any attention to scientific advice and highlighting stocks in critical state.

Press Release Date: May 25, 2011

Location: Madrid


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In the UK, anglerfish, cod, herring, megrim, plaice, and red sea bream among species managed outside of scientific advice.

Today, Oceana unveiled a set of risk maps highlighting the scope of the European fish stocks managed without abiding by scientific advice, many of which are in a critical state.  This move comes as the European Commission released a communication on fishing opportunities for 2012 which includes an assessment of the status of European stocks and outlines the guiding principles that the upcoming proposal will follow. The international marine conservation organization is pleased in the Commission’s proposal to reduce by 25% all TACs of species for which scientific advice is unavailable, but is deeply concerned that this advice will not be heeded by the Council when the time comes to set TACs.

The Commission acknowledges that in the case of European stocks (for which information on the state of the stock exists), overfishing is so severe that 63% and 82% of stocks in the Atlantic and Mediterranean respectively are overexploited, leaving very few that are fished in a sustainably way. In addition, and largely because of inaccurate catch reports, scientific advice is missing for about two-thirds of the TACs in Atlantic waters. As such, management measures implemented in these cases are uncertain and can in no way guarantee sustainability.

“To call many of these stocks ‘managed’, given the fact that scientific advice has been ignored for so many of them in the past, is actually quite ridiculous. These risk maps illustrate just how severe the problem is,” stated Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana Europe.

Oceana believes that overfishing and stock depletion is due in part to the setting of fishing effort and opportunities (TACs) at levels far too high for stocks to be sustainable, because decisions are based on political agendas rather than scientific advice. Thus in 2011 the total allowable catches adopted by the Council for the management of Atlantic stocks were around 23% higher than those recommended by scientific advice to maintain sustainability in accordance with the precautionary approach. This situation makes recovery and sustainable difficult for depleted and overexploited stocks.

In waters adjacent to the United Kingdom for example, several stocks of common species such as anglerfish, black scabbardfish, blue whiting, herring, megrim, plaice, and red sea bream are caught in quantities that exceed the scientific recommendations of sustainability. It is also worth noting that in the case of cod in the North Sea, west of Scotland, and in the Irish Sea, haddock west of Scotland, and sole in the Irish Sea, where the approved TACs, which are not based on scientific advice, could drive the collapse of the stocks as their biomass levels are under safe biological limits.

Decisions taken on fishing opportunities and other management measures must be based on the best available scientific advice pointed out Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director at Oceana Europe. Picking and choosing which scientific advice to adhere to and which to ignore, compromises the state of conservation of the stocks, reduces their potential productivity and threatens the long-term social and economic viability of fishing. We hope the Council will show the same sense as the Commission has shown today, when they move to set TACs in December, and cease playing political games at the expense of our marine environment.”

Management measures implemented by the EU for many stocks have systematically contradicted European and international commitments on the sustainable exploitation of fishery resources and reaching maximum sustainable yield. As such, only 13% of European stocks in the Atlantic and 18% of those in the Mediterranean are at or near MSY, nowhere near the international commitment taken upon by the EU and its member states for all stocks to reach MSY by 2015.

The upcoming reform of the Common Fisheries Policy provides a crucial opportunity, one that cannot and must not be missed, to establish a strong legal framework to move towards a more responsible and sustainable management of fisheries that is truly based on scientific advice.

Report: Risk Maps for fisheries management approved for 2011 by the EU for the main stocks managed in the North East Atlantic