EU proposal to widen margin of tolerance in catch reporting criticized by EJF, ClientEarth

Published on
November 24, 2022
U.K. fishing vessels.

A proposal to expand the margin of tolerance in E.U. catch reporting has drawn flack from the Environmental Justice Foundation and environmental law charity ClientEarth.

Negotiations on the E.U. fisheries control regulation governing reporting requirements are upcoming between the Council of the E.U., the European Parliament, and the European Commission. Proposals being considered from E.U. member-states and the European Parliament will make the margin of tolerance are based on the total catch, instead of by species.

But the two non-governmental organizations warned that this change, or any expansion of the tolerance allowed for accurate catch reporting, will threaten ocean ecosystems, particularly when coupled with low inspection rates, and would be illegal under both E.U. and international law.

“Scientific experts, industry bodies and people from across Europe have been lining up to call for no backsliding on sustainable fisheries, and this new research demonstrates why,” ClientEarth Fisheries Lawyer Arthur Meeus said. “Without transparency, accurate science-based management of fisheries is impossible. The evidence presented shows that from both ecological and legal perspectives, relaxing the margin of tolerance is highly dangerous.”

At present, under E.U. law, fishing vessel operators have a margin of tolerance of 10 percent per species. As such, a catch can be up to 10 percent over or under the reported weight for a given species and remain legal. But EJF and ClientEarth pointed to two recent studies revealing flaws with this system.

In a case study of the 2016 decision to widen the margin of tolerance of catches in the Baltic Sea, EJF and ClientEarth the move led to severe declines in key fish populations and a significantly reduced ability to track actual catch totals. Under the revised system, Baltic fishers were permitted to report their catches interchangeably if the total catch was within 10 percent of the reported weight, meaning different species, such as herring and sprat, could be interchanged.

A second study, an independent legal analysis from Tullio Scovazzi, a former professor of international law, found accurate and complete reporting of fishing data is mandatory under both international and E.U. laws.

EJF CEO and Founder Steve Trent said E.U. leaders must take this research seriously and stand up for a healthy ocean at the E.U. fisheries control regulation negotiations.

“We are all depending on them to do so,” he said.

“In the long run, everyone loses out if we open the door to fish fraud," Trent said. "Fish populations will collapse, honest fishers will be at a disadvantage, and the E.U.’s credibility will be critically undermined in efforts to drive sustainable fisheries on the world stage."

Photo courtesy of Ian_Stewart/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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