EU Fisheries Ministers today failed to meet their legal obligation to end overfishing by 2020, setting fishing limits for the North Sea and North East Atlantic that go beyond the sustainable limits recommended by scientists (e.g. cod in the west of Scotland, Celtic sea sole and pollack in the Bay of Biscay and Atlantic Iberian waters).

As a direct result of this decision, overfishing will further weaken several already depleted European fish populations, put the long-term sustainability of food resources at risk and hinder the ocean’s capacity to mitigate climate change.

In 2013, prompted by citizens’ widespread calls for an end to overfishing, Fisheries Ministers committed to sustainably manage European fish populations. At that time, they agreed to follow scientific advice when setting fishing quotas in a bid to end overfishing of European fish stocks by 2015 where possible, or by 2020 at the latest. [1] Today, the Ministers ignored this goal, despite half a million signatures sent from European citizens to European governments and the Commission, calling on them to stop overfishing before the 2020 deadline. [2]

“Everybody must comply with the law – and politicians are no exception”, said Andrea Ripol, Fisheries Policy Officer at Seas At Risk. She added, “Ministers decided today to breach the law, allowing overfishing even beyond 2020. This decision represents a betrayal of European citizens and breaks their trust.”

Ripol continued, “Worse even, Fisheries Ministers set more unsustainable fishing limits than last year, ignoring scientific advice for around half of them. Ministers systematically disregard the reduction advised for stocks for which little scientific information is available or where there is a problem with unwanted catch. All fish populations are important for keeping marine ecosystems healthy and in balance. It is for this precise reason that the legislation called for an end to overfishing of all harvested species.”

Fish and marine life are the engines of our global ocean. The ocean generates every second breath we take, regulates Earth’s climate, has absorbed over 90% of the heat trapped by our carbon dioxide emissions, and acts as the world’s largest active carbon sink by sequestering over 30% of the carbon from those emissions. A healthy ocean with abundant wildlife is capable of substantially slowing the rate of climate change. Ending overfishing would restore fish populations, create more resilient ocean ecosystems, decrease CO2 pollution and increase carbon capture. It would also deliver more profitable fisheries and thriving coastal communities. [3].

Andrea Ripol added, “Today’s failure completely negates the crucial role of fish and the ocean more broadly. We are currently facing a climate crisis and mass extinction. We cannot afford to continue to follow short-term profit logic to the detriment of nature.” She finished by saying, “The impact of overfishing goes far beyond the few players with direct interest in fish and could end up having a huge ripple effect on the ocean’s capacity to cope with climate change. A healthy ocean is crucial for the survival of all of us, and clearly fisheries ministers can not handle this responsibility – we urgently need new governmental actors to step in”.




[1] European Union, 2013. Common Fisheries Policy. REGULATION (EU) No 1380/2013 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 11 December 2013 on the Common Fisheries Policy, amending Council Regulations (EC) No 1954/2003 and (EC) No 1224/2009 and repealing Council Regulations (EC) No 2371/2002 and (EC) No 639/2004 and Council Decision 2004/585/EC

[2] Half a million signatures have been delivered to several EU representatives ahead of the Ministers’ decision to set fishing quotas for 2020 in the North Sea and North East Atlantic.

Press release on the delivery to European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, and Minister Jari Leppa, representing the Finnish Presidency of the Council. Zero to Superhero: Will EU Fisheries Ministers finally end overfishing this week?

Press release on the delivery to Ms Sarah Nelen, Deputy Head of Cabinet for EU Commission, Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans, and to Ms Riitta Rahkonen, representative of the Finnish Presidency of the EU Council: Ocean avengers deliver ultimatum to EU Prime Ministers: end overfishing

[3] Ending overfishing can mitigate climate change

Briefing: Ending overfishing is climate action

COP 25 – End overfishing to mitigate climate change

Ending overfishing is an opportunity to combat climate crisis – Report