Brussels - The EU’s Fisheries and Agriculture Council on 14-15 December will decide whether to permit continued overfishing in the North Atlantic and North Sea in 2016. Fisheries ministers will be challenged to improve their poor performance to date in implementing the more ambitious Common Fisheries Policy and setting sustainable levels of ‘Total Allowable Catches’.

In addition to the urgent need to adjust fishing pressure to levels below that which will allow stocks to recover to levels above those capable of producing the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY))[1], they will also be wrestling with the second year of the phasing in of the landing obligation. This landing obligation requires that fishers land everything they catch in order to avoid the previously widespread waste of perfectly edible fish being caught and thrown overboard.

Every December, EU fisheries ministers meet to negotiate on these TACs for the North Sea and North Atlantic of the following year. This involves setting limits on the annual quota for about 150 stocks, in theory according to the rules and objectives of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) agreed in 2013. The CFP requires agreement on fishing limits below ‘FMSY’ (the level of fishing at which a fish stock will be capable of producing MSY) as soon as possible, and at the latest by 2020 in order to recover fish stocks to healthy, abundant levels. However, many quota agreements for the last two years did not meet these criteria. In the most recent case for the Baltic Sea, quotas for 7 out of 10 fish stocks were set above the level recommended by the scientific advice.

Monica Verbeek, Executive Director of Seas At Risk: “The Council has failed to follow the rules agreed to under the new Common Fisheries Policy, instead allowing overfishing to continue without justification for too many stocks in 2015. This has to end. The new CFP requires an end to overfishing by 2020 at the latest, which is right around the corner. By ignoring the scientific advice Fisheries Ministers are endangering the long term health of Europe’s fish stocks, and the livelihoods of those fishing them.”

TACs set above advice levels

Image courtesy of New Economics Foundation

Another key issue on the table next week is the coming into force of the second phase of the landing obligation for many species living near the bottom (‘demersal’ species). Ministers will consider ‘uplifts’ for quotas, allowing an enhanced quota to take into account that previously discarded and unaccounted fish will now be landed and therefore counted against the quota. They must however take care to only apply quota uplifts to those fisheries where the landing obligation applies, and not allow higher quotas for entire stocks.

Seas At Risk and the Fisheries Secretariat have published and written to the respective ministers, outlining their position for the upcoming agreement. This policy brief highlights the importance of sticking to the fishing limits based on MSY criteria in line with the CFP and an effective implementation of the landing obligation when setting this year’s Total Allowable Catches.


[1] See our guide to EU fisheries policy terminology here.

For more information, contact:

Björn Stockhausen, Seas At Risk Fisheries Policy Officer, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., +32 28930968

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