EU Fisheries Ministers set 2024 fishing limits for the North-East Atlantic that disregard ecosystem considerations and defy scientific advice for some fish populations, increasing the delay in meeting the legal obligation of sustainable fisheries for all fish stocks in the EU. (1) This disheartening decision follows the conclusion of negotiations with the United Kingdom and Norway on jointly managed fish populations (2), which also saw fishing limits for several fish stocks set above scientific advice, painting a bleak picture of inaction and disregard for the dire state of fish populations and marine ecosystems. 

Rémi Cossetti, Fisheries Policy Officer at Seas At Risk said: “Once again, Fisheries Ministers have failed to comply with their legal obligation to manage fisheries sustainably. This blatant disregard for the escalating climate and biodiversity crises is a glaring betrayal of European citizens and our planet. The ‘business as usual’ approach has repeatedly proven to be insufficient. In a race against time, policy-makers must step up to their legal responsibility and moral duty to make sustainable fisheries a reality.”

The existing scientific advice lacks comprehensive considerations of both ecosystems (3) and climate criteria (4). Therefore, to genuinely align with ecological, and climate imperatives, the fishing limits should be set significantly below scientific advice, rather than precisely to the limit advised. In light of this, the risks taken by Ministers in allowing further overfishing are even more serious. 

Christine Adams, Fisheries Policy Officer at Seas At Risk said: “Ministers must shift their perspective on fish, recognising them not just as a source of food but as a key player in maintaining thriving marine ecosystems and climate stability. We cannot win the battle against climate change without our ocean allies”. 

The climate emergency and the consequent marine heatwaves will have tremendous repercussions on marine life and ecosystem functioning. Fish play a key role in the carbon cycle, facilitating the absorption and storage of carbon emitted into the atmosphere by humans. The reduction of fish in the ocean jeopardises the climate mitigation power of marine ecosystems, which do so by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, transporting and storing it in the sea bed.  (5) This key factor is ignored by the current rules. 

Currently, fishing quotas are set on the basis of analysis of individual stocks in isolation from one another. This disregards the complex interconnected relationships of different species and their food web dynamics, which are key elements that must be part of the equation to ensure the overall health of ecosystems. (6

2024 fishing limits for the North East Atlantic clashing with scientific advice, add on to last week’s proposal by the European Commission to revise the rules that would strip away legal safeguards preventing fish populations from collapsing (7). To prevent the depletion of our natural resources, short term interests need to be turned into a new vision to urgently shift towards sustainable and low impact fisheries in Europe. 



  1. Despite the 2020 deadline of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) to end overfishing, the EU has continued to set Total Allowable Catches – for EU fish stocks and for joint fish stocks with UK and Norway – above the best available scientific advice provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). The CFP states: “In order to reach the objective of progressively restoring and maintaining populations of fish stocks above biomass levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield, the maximum sustainable yield exploitation rate shall be achieved by 2015 where possible and, on a progressive, incremental basis at the latest by 2020 for all stocks.”
  2. EU reaches an agreement with Norway and UK on joint fish stocks. 
  3. Under the Common fisheries policy it is required to implement an ecosystems-based approach, but the European Commission does not require the scientific body of ICES to incorporate these in their advice, turning scientific advice into a partial advice.
  4. Climate criteria are also not considered in the current scientific advice. 
  5. A scientific editorial published over the summer 2023 – “How overfishing handicaps resilience of marine resources under climate change”, co-authored by Rashid Sumaila, with the support of over 40 scholars – joins the dots among the scientific findings published in the past decade. It stresses the role of fish, marine life and ecosystems in storing carbon and how for small-scale fishers fishing on depleted fish stocks is more fuel consuming compared to fishing on replenished fish stocks. 
  6. The Common Fisheries Policy, adopted in 2013, inscribed the necessity to implement an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management (Article 2,3), defined as  an integrated approach to managing fisheries within ecologically meaningful boundaries which seeks to manage the use of natural resources, taking account of fishing and other human activities, while preserving both the biological wealth and the biological processes necessary to safeguard the composition, structure and functioning of the habitats of the ecosystem affected, by taking into account the knowledge and uncertainties regarding biotic, abiotic and human components of ecosystems;
  7. On Thursday  7 December,  the European Commission published a proposal to revise the Multiannual Management Plans for the Baltic, the North Sea and Western Waters. This revision would remove the legal safeguard to prevent fish populations from collapsing. This rule was already breached for the first time in October when Fisheries Ministers set the 2024 fishing opportunities for the Baltic Sea.