EU takes backward step in meeting MSY objective

Published on March 29, 2016

In 2014, less EU stocks were fished at or below Fmsy, 31 of 59, than the year before. Fishing, measured as the increase in F/Fmsy, increased by 9%.  Meanwhile, 60% of assessed stocks were outside Safe Biological Limits (SBL).

The Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) Ad Hoc Expert Group recently published a report on “monitoring the performance of the CFP”. It is to assist the Commission’s annual report: “progress on achieving MSY and on the situation of fish stocks”.

Under the reformed CFP, fishing limits are be set to meet “the maximum sustainable yield exploitation rate…by 2015 where possible and, on a progressive, incremental basis at the latest by 2020 for all stocks.” The STECF report shows that this objective is not being met; indeed the EU has taken a step backward since adopting the new legislation.

For the Baltic Sea, it is not clear why MSY by 2015 was not possible, considering the conditions were close to being met four years ago. Instead, backward steps have been taken. The cod stocks in particular are far from being fished in a sustainable manner.

The situation in the Mediterranean is particularly bleak. The number of assessed stocks has declined in the Mediterranean to just nine; this is a record low since the time series began in 2003. Moreover, “the overall exploitation rate on those stocks included in the analysis has been slowly increasing since 2005…the overall fishing mortality rates need to be reduced by more than 50% if the Fmsy target is to be achieved.”

From 2003-2013 an overall declining exploitation trend has been observed, but this decade of incremental improvement has been slow and unambitious. In 2013, 19 stocks were within SBL. By 2014 this had risen to just 20 stocks.

It is clear that the way forward now means bettering the state of stocks so that all are within SBL. The 2015 MSY target has now been missed and as a matter of urgency more stocks need to be managed in line every year.  Improved assessments are essential; at the moment over 40% of stocks do not have an Fmsy value, excluding the Mediterranean.

This report makes clear that since the reform of the CFP, fisheries management has not progressed. When TACs are set later this year it will become clearer as to whether this was a blip or a sign of a wider malaise.