Germany pressed to overcome sustainable fishing ‘blind spot,’ get onboard with MSY


Germany has been systematically ignoring scientific advice on fishing quotas and is consequently putting fragile Baltic Sea stocks at risk, a new report co-authored by Our Fish and the New Economics Foundation claims.

The report, “Germany’s blind-spot for sustainable fisheries,” suggests that in continuing to overfish in these Northern European waters, the country is delaying potentially large environmental, social, and economic benefits for its coastal communities that would come from regaining healthy stock levels. With federal elections taking place on 24 September, it also outlines ways in which the incoming German government can address the problem and bring the country into line with European fisheries law. 

Measures put forward by the report include setting fishing quotas according to scientific advice and helping small-scale low-impact fishers with a fairer quota allocation system. 

“The German government has repeatedly supported overfishing of western Baltic cod, leading the public to believe that this is because of ‘socio-economics,’” said Rebecca Hubbard, program director at Our Fish. “However the figures tell a different story – not only would following scientific advice for fishing quotas bring higher economic returns sooner, but the current allocation of quotas benefits destructive trawlers that have the biggest environmental impact and the smallest contribution to jobs.” 

The reformed EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), introduced in 2013, aims to rebuild fish stocks to ecologically healthy levels and set a deadline to achieve fishing in accordance with maximum sustainable yield (MSY) reference points “by 2015 where possible and, on a progressive, incremental basis at the latest by 2020 for all stocks.”

While not in the official policy text, the report highlights that Recital 7 notes that delays to MSY past 2015 should only be allowed if achieving the exploitation rates by 2015 would seriously jeopardize the social and economic sustainability of the fishing fleets involved.

Our Fish and the New Economics Foundation alleges that Germany has exploited this “wiggle-room” and that delaying reductions in fishing pressure may only compound a problem in 2019 where fishing across many stocks must be reduced simultaneously. 

“There is a very real risk of approaching the deadline in 2019 and wishing in hindsight that more action was taken earlier,” the report stated.

It also maintains that the economic state of the German fleet, with an overall profit margin of five percent “is similar to that of other industries,” but that there is a stark contrast between the viability of the large-scale fleet with a net profit margin of 10 percent, while the small-scale fleet is currently operating in the red (negative 12 percent), which has implications for overall quota setting. 

“Of Germany’s two main fishing fleets who share western Baltic cod, the small-scale low-impact sector has access to just 35 percent of the quota and employs 747 people, whereas the heavily damaging trawl sector has 59 percent, but employs one-fifth the number of people,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard said urgent action is required in order to bring the fishery into compliance with E.U. standards.

“By setting fishing limits at sustainable levels and changing the quota allocation system to prioritise small-scale low-impact fishers, the new German government can better ensure the economic viability and ecological sustainability of coastal communities," Hubbard said. “The incoming German government needs to address this blind spot for sustainable fisheries by applying proper scrutiny to its national fisheries management. Germany needs urgent reform of how it allocates fisheries quotas if it is to comply with the spirit of the E.U. Common Fisheries Policy and play a leading role in ending overfishing of Europe’s waters."


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