EU and UK set fishing quotas that leave much-loved species floundering

Press Release Date: December 9, 2023

Location: London


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

Negotiations on yearly fishing catch limits between the EU and UK have again ended with a significant number of fish populations put at risk of overfishing and collapse, including key species such as cod. This constant pressure on stocks threatens whole marine ecosystems as well as the fishing industry itself, and with the current environmental crises the need for sustainable catch limits has never been more urgent, says the NGO Oceana.

In the agreement for next year’s 71 catch limits for shared fish populations, the UK and the EU have continued to ignore scientific advice for a significant proportion of fish populations. Preliminary analysis of the agreement indicates that there has been no breakthrough in terms of increasing the number of catch limits in line with scientific advice compared to previous years, with many severely depleted populations remaining at grave risk, says Oceana.

Fisheries ministers on both sides of the Channel frequently disregard scientific advice when setting catch limits. By continuing to allow this excessive level of extraction, they are flouting their own fisheries laws, the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, the UK Fisheries Act, and the EU and UK’s Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Vera Coelho, deputy vice-president at Oceana in Europe, said: “The agreement today quite simply goes against the law. This irresponsible decision by the EU and the UK to continue overfishing severely depleted populations of much-loved species, like cod, herring, and horse mackerel is putting their future at risk. Preserving these populations is our shared responsibility, vital not only for the health of our ocean but also for the viability of coastal fishing communities.”

Hugo Tagholm, executive director at Oceana in the UK, said: “Yet again, where is the ‘gold standard’ of fisheries management that our government claims to be striving for? As the worrying outcome of these catch negotiations show, we are struggling to reach bronze standard, or even make it to the podium at all. These piecemeal adjustments – one step forward, two steps back – threaten our ability to safeguard our seas, our fish populations and our coastal communities. The simple fact is that the EU and UK could end overfishing tomorrow by following independent scientific advice and setting sustainable limits. We should seize the opportunity to let our seas bounce back to thriving good health, rather than playing a shameful part in their destruction.”

Over a quarter (26%) of Northeast Atlantic fish populations are still overfished, a report this year by the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries of the European Commission revealed. Less than half (40%) of UK catch limits were set in line with scientific advice in 2023, according to a report from UK government advisors, the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science.

Some fish populations in the region have been depleted to perilously low levels, such as Irish Sea whiting or Western English Channel and Southern Celtic Seas cod, which are at just 7% and 13% of their sustainable population size. Oceana deplores that for these stocks, and others such as Western red seabream, Irish Sea cod, Celtic Sea herring and Western horse mackerel, for which an immediate halt to exploitation is recommended – ‘zero catch’ – both parties agreed that they would not reduce their catches at all, but continue with the unsustainable 2023 catch limit.  

As well as endangering marine wildlife and the fishing industry itself, overfishing also exacerbates the climate crisis by removing fish – which play a vital role in the ‘carbon pump’ that helps marine ecosystems capture and store atmospheric carbon.

Learn more:

NGO recommendations to the EU and the UK on the setting of fishing opportunities for 2024

Oceana report Taking stock: the state of UK fish populations 2023

Oceana report On the brink: The most depleted fish stocks in the Northeast Atlantic

Version in French