Pew: Time running out to align EU fishing quotas with scientific advice

European fisheries ministers need to fulfill the E.U. Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) obligation to follow scientific advice when negotiations to set 2018 fishing limits get underway next week if stocks are to be rebuilt to required levels, The Pew Charitable Trusts has insisted.

The December Fisheries Council will convene on 11 and 12 December in Brussels, Belgium, at which political agreements will be reached on the 2018 catch limits for the main commercial fish stocks in the Atlantic and North Sea. 

Pew has launched an E.U.-wide campaign ahead of the meeting to remind decision makers that a key part (Article 2(2)) of the CFP was a deadline set to achieve the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) of European fish stocks by 2015, but incrementally and progressively by 2020 at the latest if there is socio-economic evidence that there will be hardship caused to fishing businesses if the initial 2015 deadline is met. 

Jamie Davies of Pew told SeafoodSource that with the 2020 deadline just two years away, the NGO is looking for the bloc’s fisheries ministers to “make substantial progress” toward ending overfishing by setting total allowable catches (TACs) that do not exceed scientific advice. Essentially, it wants the council to follow the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea’s (ICES) advice on fishing limits. If there are any TACs where the council wishes to differ from those scientific recommendations, then Pew wants to see published evidence of the social-economic implications for those decisions.

“We want that evidence in the public domain,” Davies said. “Fish are a public resource for the public good.”

Pew was highly involved in the reform of the new CFP in 2012 and 2013, ensuring that a change of focus to sustainable stocks was “front and center” of the policy, he explained. Since then, it has been working each year with a focus on the December Council. It is, though, being more vocal this year, including work with other NGOs, to profile the aforementioned commitments of the CFP.

“Because we’re four years after that agreement was reached and only a couple of years left until the 2020 final deadline, we are upping the ante and want to be seen to be heard,” Davies said.

A recent report, “Taking Stock,” commissioned by Pew and conducted by fisheries consultancy Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Ltd., evaluated the headway being made toward delivering the CFP’s objectives and concluded that too many fishing limits were being set above scientific advice.

The Poseidon report, which Pew will refer to in its discussions with ministers, showed how little progress has been made, said Davies. He also added that the NGO has “struggled” to determine why the necessary steps have yet to be taken by decision makers to reach the 2015/2020 targets.

“From my perspective, I met with the U.K. fisheries minister last year and this year to ask that very question – what happens behind the closed doors of the December Council every year?” he said. “We have not seen any evidence – either biological or socio-economic – that would require limits to not be set in line with the scientific advice. We find it very difficult to disentangle and understand why those decisions aren’t being made.”

To recognize where and why they are being deferred, Pew and other NGOs are also calling for greater levels of transparency in the negotiation and decision-making processes.

Ahead of next week’s meeting, the European Commission proposed 74 TACs for fish stocks in the northern and southern waters of the Northeast Atlantic, which are not subject to negotiation with third-countries. Of these, the commission has followed the scientific advice for 58 percent (43 out of 74) of the proposed TACs, a small improvement on last year’s proposal (35 out of 69). However, Davies highlighted that for 27 TACs, the commission has proposed fishing limits that exceed scientific advice without providing any evidence that ending overfishing in 2018 would seriously jeopardize the social and economic sustainability of the fleets involved. 

For the vast majority of TACs with scientific advice on MSY exploitation rates, the commission has proposed fishing limits in line with ICES’ advice, but there are also five instances where the commission has proposed TACs exceeding scientific advice for stocks where MSY fishing limits are recommended; namely, herring in areas 6a (South), 7b and 7c; herring in areas 5b, 6b and 6a (North); megrims in area 7; megrims in areas 8abde; and common sole in area 7a.

“From our perspective, it’s about transparency and understanding why the Commission, which is meant to be defending the ambitions of the CFP, are pushing for limits above scientific advice,” Davies said.


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