Early this morning European Fisheries Ministers concluded negotiations on an atypical December AGRIFISH Council meeting, with the pending outcome of Brexit impacting this year´s agenda.

Of the fishing quotas managed exclusively by the EU, the Council has decided to set around one third above the sustainable limits advised by scientists, breaching the EU legal obligation to end overfishing. Seas At Risk strongly condemns this decision but recognises efforts made by the European Commission to push for an outcome in line with science.

Scientific advice was further ignored in the agreement to rollover 25% of the 2020 total allowable catch for the first quarter of 2021 for the remaining fish stocks shared with the UK – a measure adopted to ensure continuity in fishing while Brexit negotiations continue.

‘Around one third of the fishing quotas were set at limits above scientific advice. Fisheries Ministers have no one but themselves to blame for this lack of willingness to progress their own commitment to end overfishing,’ says Andrea Ripol, Fisheries Policy Officer of Seas At Risk. ‘Fisheries ministers agreed to continue to overfish even those stocks that are managed by the EU alone. This sends the wrong message ahead of the upcoming negotiations with the UK and Norway on shared stocks and runs counter to EU ambitions to mitigate the biodiversity and climate crises,” she adds.

That 25% rollover increases the risk of further over-exploitation of fish stocks. The decision is particularly harmful for stocks that were already fished above sustainable levels under last year’s fishing quotas and whose critical conservation status has prompted scientists to call for a complete closure of those fisheries in 2021. Continuing to allow overfishing of these depleted stocks increases the risk of their total collapse. Applying this arbitrary approach based on last year’s quotas means that any excess quota granted now will have to be deducted from the total allowable catch for the rest of the year in order to follow scientific advice.

‘By rolling over 25% of last year’s catch into the first three months of 2021, the EU ignores the sustainable fishing limits advised by scientists and thus the limits of nature. In fact, to ensure that scientific advice is met by the end of the year, Fisheries Ministers will have to apply the associated proportionate cuts after March 2021, which for some fish stocks could be quite substantial. A failure would result in widespread overfishing and would jeopardise current progress towards ending overfishing in the EU,’ Ripol notes. ‘The climate and biodiversity crises have not stopped for Brexit and continue to need urgent attention and action, starting by ending overfishing.’



NGOs’ Press Briefing ahead of AGRIFISH Council: https://seas-at-risk.org/images/pdf/publications/201119-joint-ngo-briefing-on-risks-of-increasing-interannual-quota-flexibility-in-light-of-the-covid-19-crisis.pdf