EU fails to curb overfishing

Press Release Date: December 13, 2022

Location: Brussels


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

The Mediterranean and European eel have proven particularly contentious issues

Brussels – Today, EU ministers at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting (AGRIFISH) have reached an agreement on fishing opportunities for 2023 for populations managed exclusively by the EU. This includes 26 catch limits for the Northeast Atlantic, as well as fishing effort restrictions for Mediterranean waters. Whereas EU ministers made very modest progress in terms of exploiting Atlantic stocks, they proved unwilling to curb overfishing in the Mediterranean Sea despite an ambitious proposal from the European Commission.

Science-based fisheries management pays off. Thanks to that, it has been possible this year to increase catches for a good number of Atlantic stocks such as anglerfish in the Cantabrian Sea, horse mackerel in Iberian waters, megrims in the southern Bay of Biscay or plaice in the Kattegat. However, EU fisheries ministers´ commitment to science wanes when it requires reducing catches such as for red seabream, pollack or the critically endangered European eel,” said Vera Coelho, senior director of advocacy at Oceana in Europe. She added: “Ministers’ perspective is short-sighted, just like their political terms in office, whereas the ocean takes decades to recover. This particularly relates to the Mediterranean, where ministers from France, Spain, and Italy fail to react as they should to serious overfishing, climate and biodiversity crises.

The two main topics of disagreement during the negotiations, and where the AGRIFISH Council has particularly fallen short in its ambition, have been how to recover European eel, which remains in a critical condition, and to what extent to restrict fishing effort in the Mediterranean, the most overexploited sea in Europe.

EU ministers have been exceeding the European Commission’s proposals based on scientific advice for years and hence legalizing overfishing. In doing so, the Council of the EU is blatantly ignoring its legal obligation, set in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), to recover and maintain all fish populations above sustainable levels. This lack of leadership calls into question the EU’s internationally stated ambition to halt nature decline at the COP15 biodiversity summit.

The EU is still due to reach an agreement with the UK on catch limits for shared fish populations. The deadline for reaching this agreement is 20th December, according to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and UK. Oceana continues to urge the EU and the UK to finally end overfishing and return fish populations to their former abundance, by setting fishing opportunities in line with scientific recommendations, adopting an ecosystem-based approach and incorporating climate considerations into fisheries management decisions.


The EU has failed to meet the legal deadline to end overfishing by 2020, set in the CFP and in commitments under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 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.

EU ministers annually pay lip service to sustainability, but pressure from the fishing industry still results in them continuing to overshoot the maximum catch limits or fishing effort recommended by independent scientific bodies like the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) or the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF).

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.

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 #EndOverfishing #AGRIFISH

Learn more:

NGO recommendations to the EU on the setting of fishing opportunities for 2023

Press release: Blue NGOs urge Council ministers not to let fish become a distant memory on World Fisheries Day

Press release: Oceana highlights more work needed to end overfishing in European waters and to take into account ecosystem considerations

Press release: Pitiful management leaves most depleted fish hanging by a thread