EU fisheries Council fails to ensure sustainable exploitation of fish stocks

Press Release Date: December 16, 2020

Location: Brussels


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

Ministers set 35% of Atlantic fishing limits above sustainable levels

Mediterranean fisheries further jeopardized by short-termism

Today the 27 EU fisheries ministers reached an agreement on fishing opportunities for EU fish stocks in 2021.  Despite deadlines in EU law and United Nations’ commitments to end overfishing by 2020, ministers failed to set fishing limits that would ensure all fish resources are exploited within sustainable levels. Some fishing opportunities, particularly for the Mediterranean, were set well above scientific recommendations.

Vera Coelho, Senior Director of Advocacy at Oceana in Europe, said: By exceeding scientific advice for around 35% of catch limits, fisheries ministers are clearly disregarding the objectives and legal obligations of the EU fisheries policy, which requires all fish stocks to be harvested sustainably. Despite all stated Green Deal ambitions, short-termism continues to drive decisions against the backdrop of an environmental emergency.”

The EU has decided about fishing opportunities including 23 Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for North-East Atlantic fish stocks and fishing effort limits in the Western Mediterranean Sea. Despite reasonable initial proposals from the European Commission and their attempts to increase transparency, the AGRIFISH Council failed to align all North-east Atlantic TACs with scientific advice. Several TACs, mainly for data-limited fish stocks, exceeded scientifically advised limits, including those for southern hake, pollack in the Bay of Biscay or cod in the Kattegat, among others.

EU Ministers also strongly opposed the European Commission proposal to reduce 2021 “fishing days” for Mediterranean trawlers by 15%, and battled to limit the reduction to a mere 7.5%. This short-sighted decision disregards scientific advice calling for stronger effort reductions of up to 80% for most overfished sotcks. A situation like this will perpetuate the Mediterranean’s unenviable position as the world’s most overfished sea, further putting at risk the realisation of the 2019 EU Multiannual Plan for demersal fisheries in the Western Mediterranean.

In light of the continued uncertainty surrounding the future relationship with the UK, the AGRIFISH Council further set over 120 provisional TACs for shared stocks with third countries (including the UK and Norway), to be fished by EU vessels in EU and in international waters. These TACs will apply provisionally from 1 January to 31 March 2021 to ensure the continuation of fishing activity until agreements on these stocks are concluded. In case of no agreement, the Council will set definitive unilateral TACs for 2021. Oceana urges all involved parties to follow scientific advice so as to prevent an overfishing race between the EU and the UK.


The United Nations IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services warned that fishing has been the biggest cause of marine biodiversity loss in the last 40 years. In the North-East Atlantic the overfishing rate has dropped from 66% to 40% of assessed stocks over the last decade, whereas in the Mediterranean it continues at high levels. A transition to fully sustainable fisheries must speed up if overfishing is to become a thing of the past.

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) sets a clear legal obligation to end overfishing by 2020, to ensure all EU exploited stocks are restored above healthy levels which can produce the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). The CFP further stipulates that stocks included in fishing agreements with third countries are exploited as well according to similar standards. In 2019, the EU adopted the Multiannual Plan for demersal fisheries in the Western Mediterranean (EC/2019/1022) creating a framework to achieve the CFP objectives by 2025, particularly by tackling excessive fishing effort.

Due to Brexit, over 100 catch limits for the most important Atlantic stocks, including deep-sea ones, will be subject to the outcome of the EU-UK negotiations, 2021 being the first year when the UK will not be subject to EU law.

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Learn more:

NGO recommendations for the European Commission and the EU Council on the setting of Northeast Atlantic fishing opportunities for 2021

NGO recommendations for deep-sea fishing limits 2021-2022

NGO reply to European Commission consultation on CFP progress and fishing opportunities for 2021

Oceana’s recommendations for the EU-UK Fisheries Agreement

  #AGRIFISH #EndOverfishing