The European Union Council of Fisheries Ministers has come to an agreement on 2023 fishing opportunities for fish stocks exclusively managed by the E.U. in the Atlantic Ocean, Kattegat, and Skagerrak, including deep-sea stocks for 2023 and 2024.
The 27 total allowable catches (TACs) for the fisheries operating on stocks managed solely by the E.U., were announced 13 December, 2022, as were strengthened measures to address the critical decline of eel stocks.
The council also set TACs for stocks shared trilaterally with Norway and the United Kingdom, following what it said was a successful conclusion of consultations. Preliminary TACs for stocks shared bilaterally with Norway and with the United Kingdom were also set.
E.U. Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said he was happy that member-states had followed the European Commission’s proposal for most stocks, but said there was still “room for improvement.”
“By agreeing to set fishing opportunities in line with the scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), we continue our efforts to manage our stocks at healthy levels. There is still some room for improvement, however, in particular regarding precautionary advice stocks,” Sinkevičius said. “I also welcome that council has made progress to address the critical status of eels with a six-month closure of marine catches and a total prohibition of recreational fishing.”
As proposed by the commission, the council set 10 TACs in line with maximum sustainable yield advice (MSY) advice.
In the Kattegat, because of the worrying state of cod, the TACs for plaice and Norway lobster have been set in the lower range of MSY. The council also agreed on a limit of 97 metric tons (MT) for unavoidable catches of cod taken in other fisheries, as well as an additional allowance for fishers using cameras for real-time monitoring during fishing activities.
In the Bay of Biscay and the Iberian waters, and within the MSY range, the council agreed to a 10 percent increase of the hake TAC. In addition, the anglerfish TAC is raised by 12 percent and the megrim TAC by 33 percent. In the Bay of Biscay, it set a 19 percent increase of the Norway lobster (langoustine) TAC. The Iberian horse mackerel fishery received a 12 percent MSY increase. For anchovy in the Bay of Biscay, a provisional TAC will allow fishing activities to continue, pending the publication of a scientific assessment.
According to the European Commission, the 2023 agreement represents a value of EUR 3.5 billion (USD 3.7 billion) for 187 E.U. fleet segments with significant fishing activity in the Skagerrak and northeast Atlantic. These fleet segments include 15,635 active vessels and employ 30,800 full-time fishers belonging to 1,190 E.U. fishing communities.
The European Commission said for the first time, the agreement could lead to a “very substantial increase” in landings in the Atlantic and North Sea in 2023. This could translate into an overall increase of EUR 81 million (USD 86.2 billion) in the value of landings compared to 2022, it said.
TACs for the stocks the E.U. shares trilaterally with the United Kingdom and other states were also agreed. Of those, all TACs have been set at MSY level. However, since the consultations regarding stocks shared bilaterally with the U.K. and with Norway are still ongoing, the council adopted preliminary contingency TACs for those stocks for the first three months of 2023. The contingency TACs are generally set at 25 percent of the 2022 TACs.
TACs for the Atlanto-Scandian herring, blue whiting, and mackerel for 2023 were set in line with the share of the overall fishing opportunities agreed with the coastal states. Northeast Atlantic coastal states’ previous failure to agree on fisheries management measures led to the Marine Stewardship Council withdrawing its certification of the fisheries in 2019.
Separately, Sinkevičius praised the council’s move to extend the current closure of fishing eels at sea from three to six months to coincide with the period when juvenile eel migration is at its peak and mature eels are swimming between the sea and rivers.However, some ocean campaign groups insist the eel protection doesn’t go far enough, given the critical stock status of the European eel. A joint press release from Seas at Risk, The Fisheries Secretariat, Our Fish, and Sciaena said E.U. fisheries ministers failed to adequately protect the critically endangered species and other vulnerable fish species. With their approval, the groups said, eels will continue to be fished across most of their natural range despite scientific advice calling for zero catches in all habitats for all life stages, including glass eels for restocking and aquaculture.
“The scientific advice is very clear – no fishing for eel can be considered sustainable. Instead, we need to do everything we can to stop all mortality of this critically endangered species and restore lost habitats,” The Fisheries Secretariat Niki Sporrong said. “The commission put forward a clear proposal to protect the peak migration in E.U. waters. After member-states pushed back all night, the effectiveness of the complex agreement now announced is difficult to assess and leaves many potential loopholes. Overall, it is not the deal for eel we were hoping for.”
Environmental law charity ClientEarth also condemned the council’s decision.
“This time, their science-defying reluctance to close all eel fisheries might well turn out to be the final nail in the coffin of this critically endangered species,” ClientEarth Fisheries Science and Policy Advisor Jenni Grossmann said,
Photo courtesy of European Union Council of Fisheries Ministers