In the proposal for fishing opportunities for 2021, the Commission is showing some commitment to end overfishing but much uncertainty remains over stocks shared with the United Kingdom. A roll-over is likely on provisions for a 3-month ban of eel fishing.
Yesterday, the Commission published its proposal for 2021 catch limits for fish stocks in the Atlantic and the North Sea (COM(2020)668). The final catch limits will be agreed by EU fisheries ministers at the Council on 15–16 December, and will then apply to EU fisheries from 1 January 2021.
Under the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the Member States are legally bound to manage fish stocks at sustainable levels; in fact, they have a legal obligation to ensure that all EU fish stocks are restored above levels which can produce maximum sustainable yields (MSY) by 2020 – essentially to end overfishing. This target which will not be reached and NGO in Europe have repeatedly called on the Commission and Ministers to do better.
Reasonable proposal with great uncertainties
The Commission proposal mostly follows the scientific advice to achieve this, but not for all stocks. Notable exceptions are pollack in the Bay of Biscay and Iberian waters, and sole in the waters west of Ireland. Great uncertainties remain over data poor stocks and any future deal with the United Kingdom on fisheries, as part of BREXIT. As many as 70 catch limits for stocks shared with the UK are on the table, with 2021 being the first year that the UK will not be subject to EU law.
FishSec is pleased to see that the Commission has proposed a continuation of the safeguarding measures for cod in the Kattegat, with a ban on targeted fishing and bycatch quotas only, including measures to ensure that gears are more selective or covered by remote electronic monitoring (REM).
We hope that in December, the European Commission, the EU fisheries ministers and the UK Government will set catch limits (Total Allowable Catches) following the best available scientific advice and meet the legal requirement to stop overfishing by 2020 for any stock where this is possible.
Roll-over proposed for European eel measures
The Commission is proposing a roll-over of the provisions around a three-consecutive-months fishing ban for European eel, which is set unilaterally by the Member States in the period between the 1 August 2021 and 28 February 2022. According to the Commission, this is consistent with the conservation objectives set out in Council Regulation (EC) No 1100/20076 and the temporal migration patterns of European eel in Union waters of the ICES area.
The ban is proposed to apply to all life stages and fisheries in Union waters, as well as brackish waters such as estuaries, coastal lagoons and transitional waters. This would be in line with Recommendation GFCM/42/2018/1 adopted by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) which establishes management measures for European eel in the Mediterranean.
This is the fourth time that the Council will agree on such a ban for eel fishing, though the exact content and time period has changed over the years. It was first agreed in December 2017, in conjunction with a Joint Declaration on strengthening the recovery of European eel (Commission & Member States).
The ICES advice for European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is expected to remain unchanged: that all anthropogenic mortalities, including recreational and commercial fisheries, should be reduced to, or kept as close to, zero as possible. In light of this, FishSec cannot see how a three-month fishing ban is sufficient in terms of eel conservation. Much more needs to be done.
For more information about the Commission proposal:
For joint NGO recommendations on the setting of Northeast Atlantic fishing opportunities for 2021: Attached pdf
For the Joint Declaration on the recovery of European eel: Attached pdfFinal Joint eel declaration ST_5382_2018_INIT_EN