EU faces Mediterranean fish ultimatum

EU to close the swordfish fishery or lose it as stock mismanagement triggers first signs of economic woes on Mediterranean countries

Press Release Date: October 21, 2016

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

The European Union is now facing an ultimatum on a key fishery in the Mediterranean. Oceana has called on EU countries to stop all swordfish fishing in the Mediterranean unless an immediate recovery plan to rebuild stocks is put in place. Mediterranean swordfish has been reduced to one third of its size in just thirty years, and fresh scientific advice published this week reveals that if no action is taken to stop overfishing, there is a 0% chance that the stock can ever recover by itself. Recent public data has also shown that swordfish fishing fleets and markets are now beginning to suffer the economic impact of this loss.

The ultimatum comes amid new scientific advice from international scientists at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which confirmed the critical state of the swordfish fishery in the region. The scientists have also echoed a call by Oceana to draw up and activate an immediate recovery plan to ensure its existence and to bring stocks back to sustainable levels. At the current rate, this is the only alternative to a zero total allowable catch (TAC), or in other words, shutting down the fishery.

“The sharp decline of Mediterranean swordfish will only get worse without a recovery plan that limits catches through a quota system. It really is as clear as this: Either the EU fights for a robust recovery plan or it stands to lose swordfish”, said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director for Oceana in Europe.

As a direct result of the Mediterranean swordfish crisis, this year Malta has already seen its catches down by 25% on the previous year, leading to an internal economic loss of 30% for this fishery. Italy, the biggest player in the swordfish fishery, accounts for over 45% of Mediterranean swordfish catches but has to import almost 7 times its catches from other countries, including Morocco and Algeria. This is to satisfy its own internal demand but in effect drives down market prices and harms local economies.  

The Mediterranean swordfish has been mismanaged for decades, despite scientists ringing the alarm bells on its overfishing crisis. Half-hearted attempts to manage the species and the failure of Mediterranean countries to face the harsh reality of the situation are the reasons behind today’s stock levels and the economic woes that are now starting to hit fishermen, communities and the economy in the Mediterranean.

All eyes are now on the EU to revert this situation and show its international commitment to sustainable fisheries. Having 75% of all swordfish catches in the region, the EU must intervene and call for a strong recovery plan based on scientific advice to establish TACs for swordfish at the annual ICCAT meeting in November.

Click here for Flickr album on swordfish

Oceana’s recovery plan to save Mediterranean swordfish