Progress in Western Mediterranean does not match urgency to recover fish populations, warns Oceana

Press Release Date: April 5, 2024

Location: Brussels


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

France, Italy and Spain are failing to sustainably manage valuable species such as hake, red mullet or Norway lobster

Reacting to today’s scientific evaluation of the EU’s Western Mediterranean multiannual fisheries management plan, Oceana highlights that, despite efforts to achieve the sustainable exploitation of demersal fish species by 2025, the pace of progress is not matching legal obligations and the urgency of the situation. Overfishing of species such as hake, red mullet or Norway lobster remains prevalent, and this will have knock-on effects for the long-term health of marine ecosystems and the viability of the fishing sector.

Vera Coelho, Deputy Vice President at Oceana in Europe, said: “There is no doubt that Western Mediterranean countries have made efforts to reduce fishing pressure and unwanted catches in the region. However, it is also very clear that they need to do more to fulfill their legal obligations in the multiannual plan and ensure sustainable fisheries. We urge France, Italy and Spain to adopt measures in line with scientific advice to restore demersal fish populations to a healthy state in this critical sea basin, and the European Commission to enforce these measures.”

The report by the Scientific, Technical, and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) analyses the progress in achieving two critical points of the plan, which Western Mediterranean countries – France, Italy and Spain – are primarily responsible for implementing. Firstly, the plan should ensure the sustainable harvesting of fish populations – by 2025 at the latest – to restore and maintain them above sustainable levels (Maximum Sustainable Yield). Secondly, the plan should contribute towards eliminating discards, by avoiding unwanted catches as much as possible, and getting countries to implement the landing obligation.

The scientific evaluation reveals alarming rates of exploitation and a low abundance of numerous demersal species in the Western Mediterranean. Only four populations (29%) are known to be sustainably exploited. The majority – ten populations (71%) – are still subject to overfishing or the rate of exploitation is unknown. Particularly concerning is the low abundance of three fish populations, which is estimated to be below safe biological limits, namely: Norway lobster in Northern Spain, and the two European hake populations. The scientific evaluation indicates that the countries concerned must urgently take remedial action to end overfishing and recover populations.

The Western Mediterranean multiannual plan, which came into force in 2019, aims to achieve the sustainable exploitation of populations of six demersal fish species (which live on or near the sea bottom) in the Western Mediterranean, namely blue and red shrimp, deep-water rose shrimp, giant red shrimp, red mullet, Norway lobster and European hake. Despite countries introducing measures – such as significantly reducing fishing days for trawlers, freezing the number of fishing days for long-liners, reducing catch limits for two shrimp species, new spatial-temporal closure periods and improving gear selectivity – progress in achieving sustainable fishing has been sluggish and insufficient.

The findings of the STECF report will play a crucial role in shaping future policy decisions. They will feed into the European Commission’s report assessing the results and impacts of the plan on populations concerned and fisheries exploiting these populations, which is due to the European Parliament and to the Council by 17 July this year. From 1 January 2025 onwards – date by when all fish populations in the Western Mediterranean should be sustainably exploited according to the plan – Italy, France and Spain will be obliged to ensure the fishing opportunities they set are within sustainable ranges, compatible with the Maximum Sustainable Yield. They will also have to enforce remedial measures if stocks fall below certain abundance thresholds to ensure their recovery to sustainable levels

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