EU and UK agreement on 2021 fishing limits: a promising sign of cooperation, but still falling short on the science

Press Release Date: June 2, 2021



Emily Fairless, Communications Officer | email: | tel.: +32 478 038 490

The EU and the UK have at last reached their first annual agreement concerning their shared fish populations, setting quotas for over 75 commercial fish stocks and adopting provisions for the exploitation of non-quota stocks in 2021. Oceana welcomes the willingness of both parties to cooperate but considers that some of the adopted measures fall short of ensuring the sustainable exploitation of common fish stocks.

After lengthy and difficult negotiations, this first post-Brexit fisheries agreement is an important milestone, as only through cooperation can the EU and the UK address the management of their shared fish stocks said Vera Coelho, Oceana’s Senior Director for Advocacy in Europe. But both parties are still repeating management errors of the past, such as setting some catch limits above scientific advice. If both parties want to lead on sustainable fisheries management internationally and help counter the climate and biodiversity emergencies, they must end overfishing immediately.”

A recent fisheries audit by Oceana shows that only around 43% of fish stocks shared among the UK and the EU are known to be exploited at sustainable levels, whereas the rest of the stocks are either overfished or their exploitation status is unknown. Yet there are still examples in this new fisheries agreement where scientific advice is clearly not being followed, as is the case with cod in the West of Scotland, herring in the West of Ireland or whiting in the Irish Sea, perpetuating overfishing of these stocks.

The fisheries agreement for 2021, which is unprecedented in terms of the scope of the number of fish stocks covered, has been adopted under the principles and conditions established in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). The agreed management measures will replace the current provisional ones set by the EU and UK individually to ensure continuation of the fishing activity until the consultations are concluded and implemented in the respective national or EU law.


The politically motivated setting of catch limits higher than recommended by scientists brings short-term financial gains to a few and devastating impacts to the rest. Overfishing is destructive for the marine environment, depletes fish populations and weakens their resilience to climate change. It also undermines the long-term socio-economic sustainability of the fishing industry and coastal communities on both sides of the Channel. Indeed, Oceana’s UK Fisheries Audit showed that when catch limits are set at or below recommended sustainable levels, fish stocks rebound, demonstrating the positive impact to be gained by following scientific advice.

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Learn more:

Oceana warns UK and EU must ‘walk the talk’ if new Brexit deal is to protect fish stocks