Positions & Papers

Recommendations for the European Commission and the EU Council on the setting of Northeast Atlantic fishing opportunities for 2021

October 30, 2020

Background Fisheries ministers and the European Commission failed to achieve the objective of ending overfishing in the Northeast Atlantic region, as per the 2020 deadline outlined in Article 2.2 of the CFP. In 2020, when the transition period and legal deadline to end overfishing concluded, 46 percent of Northeast Atlantic TACs were still set exceeding scientific advice by fisheries ministers in December 2019. Even in the Commission’s TAC proposal that set the basis for these decisions, almost half of the proposed TACs exceeded scientific advice (1). In addition to failing to meet the CFP’s own legal deadline for achieving sustainable fisheries, these TAC decisions do not uphold the original intent of the regulation to recover stocks and provide high yield fisheries, and therefore cannot deliver the related environmental, social, and economic benefits. Although progress has been made for some commercially important stocks, a significant proportion of stocks are still poorly managed, with the rationale for this remaining unclear, or less sustainable management being justified spuriously by a lack of scientific data, or their lower economic importance. This goes against the CFP which requires the same policy response and objectives for all harvested species and demands an ecosystem‐based approach. Deprioritising less productive or less comprehensively assessed stocks undermines the EU’s claim to be a leader in sustainable fisheries management. This indicates that the European Commission and Council have, in the case of EU fisheries management, fallen short of EU obligations relating to the application of the precautionary principle as required under Article 191(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) (2) or of international commitments under the UNFSA(3) and UN Sustainable Development Goal 142 (4). Nevertheless, important decisions must still be taken to end overfishing, especially now that the 2020 deadline has passed. Setting TACs not exceeding scientific advice and effectively implementing the landing obligation (LO) remain top priorities if the CFP’s legally binding objectives are to be delivered, international commitments are to be honoured, and the ambition of the EU Biodiversity Strategy achieved.
(1) Pew Charitable Trusts (2020) ‐ Analysis of Fisheries Council agreement on fishing opportunities in the Northeast Atlantic for 2020 (2) Communication from the Commission on the precautionary principle COM/2000/0001 final (3) https://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/fish_stocks_agreement/CONF164_37.htm (4) https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg14
  Recommendations for the Commission and the Council  
The Commission and the Council should propose and agree on TACs in accordance with the following recommendations:
  • Propose and set TACs not exceeding the best available scientific advice provided by ICES, both for stocks with advice based on the ICES MSY approach and on the ICES data‐limited precautionary approach.
  • Where applicable, propose and set TACs not exceeding the FMSY point value specified by the EU multiannual plans (MAPs).
  • Factor in the widely recognised poor compliance with the LO by proposing and setting TACs lower than the catch advice, to ensure that the agreed TACs do not lead to fishing mortality beyond sustainable levels.
  • If quota adjustments are granted to count for previous discards, member states should make them accessible only to vessels which demonstrate full compliance with the LO.
  • In the case of TACs with zero catch advice, ensure that ‘bycatch TACs’ are not granted unless and until the relevant member states put in place a bycatch reduction or rebuilding plan that effectively reduces bycatches, sets the relevant stocks on a pathway to recovery above levels capable of producing MSY as soon as possible, and is closely monitored and enforced using remote electronic monitoring (REM).
  • In mixed fisheries, propose TACs for some stocks lower than the ICES single species wanted catch advice, to ensure that no stocks in the mixed fishery are fished above FMSY, in order to comply with the objective of restoring biomasses above levels capable of producing MSY.
  • Call on Northeast Atlantic Coastal States to follow their common international commitments to end overfishing in 2020 for shared stocks with the EU, for the objectives of the CFP to be achieved.
  • Improve transparency by following the EU Ombudsman’s recommendation of proactively making public documents related to the adoption of the TAC Regulation at the time they are circulated to member states or as soon as possible thereafter (5).
  Specific recommendations for the Commission on its TAC proposals  
  • The Commission should recognise and defend that the setting of fishing limits is the central tool to rebuild and maintain the biomass of fish populations (CFP Article 2.2) and that ‘last hope’ remedial measures to save depleted stocks are not the solution to achieving that objective (6).
  • Where emergency or remedial measures are needed to save and rebuild stocks, the Commission should link them to the adoption by ministers of reliable, legally‐binding and robust methods of full catch documentation, like observers or REM, in order to have a proper understanding of the fishing activity. This should be a high priority to ensure that TACs, ‘bycatch TACs’, the LO and its exemptions are respected.
  • The Commission should improve the transparency of its TAC proposals by making publicly available:
-the rationale, data and studies used when TAC proposals exceed scientific advice, including for ’bycatch TACs’                      linked to zero catch advice; -the information and considerations used when proposing TACs for stocks subject to mismatch between TAC                         management units and scientific advice; -the proposed TAC adjustments in relation to the LO, including the proposed figures before and after these                             adjustments have been applied, as well as any underlying calculations and data; -any proposals subsequent to the official Commission proposal (TACs ‘non‐papers’).
(5) Recommendation of the European Ombudsman in case 640/2019/FP (6) Moreover, legally speaking, the prerogative of the Council of fisheries ministers is restricted to the setting and allocation of fishing opportunities, as per article 43.3 of the TFEU.


Joint NGO recommendations on Baltic Sea fishing opportunities for 2021

June 9, 2020

In October 2020, EU fisheries ministers will agree on fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2021. We have provided a range of recommendations regarding the principles for setting sustainable fishing quotas in line with the Common Fisheries Policy and also specific recommendations for the Total Allowable Catches for each of the Baltic fish stocks that are managed by quota. Read the NGO briefing here.


It’s there for a reason: Why Ministers must not exceed scientific advice on fishing quota

November 25, 2019

In a briefing by Griffin Carpenter of the New Economics Foundation the reasons and benefits for Ministers not exceeding scientific advice are laid out and provide a timely reminder ahead of the December Council meeting at which quotas for the Northeast Atlantic and North Sea will be set.

The message is clear: “Past inaction by fishing Ministers has come at a cost. Through their delay, Ministers have reduced the environmental and socio-economic benefits that will result from ending overfishing.”

The briefing highlights one of the key commitments from the reformed EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) from 2013, an end to overfishing “by 2015 where possible and, on a progressive, incremental basis at the latest by 2020 for all stocks”.

We have now reached the deadline set in the reformed CFP to end overfishing but with four out of ten stocks still being overfished in the Northeast Atlantic and nine out of ten in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, celebration for the EU commitment, it seems, was premature.

The Council of Ministers which has the ultimate say in setting fishing quota has exceeded scientific advice in every six out of ten cases since the CFP reform. With the upcoming quota negotiations for 2020, this practice must end for the CFP objective to be met.

The briefing provides detail on the environmental benefits of ending overfishing, a greater abundance of marine life in a more resilient ecosystem. Moreover, the socio-economic benefits of ending overfishing are explained, more catches and fewer trips. In addition, the cumulative profits generated from sustainable management and the quota implications for a wide range of stocks are expanded upon.


Joint NGO priorities on the revision of the EU Fisheries Control System

November 14, 2019

A broad coalition of NGOs have together drawn up a series of recommendations based on the EU Commission proposal for the revision of the Fisheries Control System, this includes both an analysis of the proposal as well as a detailed 12 point plan for reform.


EU Fisheries Council 16-17 December. Northeast Atlantic fishing opportunities for 2020 – Joint NGO recommendations

October 24, 2019

In our joint recommendations to the EU Fisheries Council, The Fisheries Secretariat along with The Pew Charitable Trusts, Seas At Risk, Oceana, ClientEarth, and Our Fish have provided concrete policy proposals ahead of the December Council at which fishing limits or TACs will be set for over 100 stocks in the North Sea and Northeast Atlantic.

The MSY obligation, all stocks managed with a sustainable fishing mortality (under Fmsy) in order to achieve a sustainable biomass (Bmsy) by 2020, is due to be fully implemented at this Council meeting. However, there is  serious threat of the legal requirement not being met.

We provide an overview of "progress in implementing the CFP", referencing the EU body, the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee on Fisheries (STECF), which clearly show that implementing of sustainable fishing limits has slowed in recent years.

Further, we provide recommendations for setting TACs in line with the CFP requirements, the implementation of the Landing Obligation, and improving the transparency and accountability of the TAC setting process, in line with the EU Ombudsman investigation into the Council.

Finally, we reference the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC), which predicts severe declines in European fisheries production and highlights the need to alleviate all other stressors on ocean ecosystems, specifically, ending overfishing to help restore fish populations and increase ocean resilience. "In light of this clear call to climate action, all fishing limits should at the very least not exceed the best available scientific advice and preferably be even more precautionary in light of diverse threats and uncertainty."


Letter to Baltic Ministers on Council TAC deliberations for 2020

October 10, 2019

Over 80 NGOs have written to ministers ahead of the October fisheries council meeting at which fishing limits will be set for next year. The letter states that "We welcome the progress that has been made in increasing the number of catch limits set in line with scientific advice. Nevertheless, we remain very concerned that, according to the latest report from the EU’s Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), more than 40%of the North-East Atlantic stocks are still subject to overfishing. Furthermore, we note with serious concern that the rate of progress toward meeting the requirement to end overfishing has slowed in the last few years, making additional and urgent efforts necessary to restore stocks to healthy levels." In addition, "we would welcome an unequivocal commitment from you that you will do your utmost to meet the Article 2(2) requirements of the CFP...We urge you to strongly and openly oppose recommendations that do not follow the scientific advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the CFP Article 2(2) objective."


Transparency: A question to the incoming Finnish presidency of Baltfish

October 2, 2019

In a letter to the incoming Finnish presidency of Baltfish, 15 organisations have called for improvements to transparency and access to documents and positions taken by member states. "Transparency has been part of the work programme and agenda during the previous Swedish, Danish, German and Polish Presidencies and a successful outcome has yet to be reached. We call on the Finnish Presidency to end this long running saga and fulfil the transparency requirements of the European Union." These 15 organisations comprise a broad coalition of environmental organisations, segments of the fishing industry, as well as organisations representing anglers and recreational fishermen.

The letter states: "Our transparency request to Baltfish is for timely access to:
  • Draft texts being proposed;
  • Positions taken by national members;
  • Meeting notes or minutes;
  • And for all documents to be publicly available online."
The letter notes that these criteria are within the Baltfish memorandum of understanding, adopted in December 2013, and is also in line with the Aarhus Convention to which the EU and its Member States are contracting parties. Further, the letter references two inquires launched by the European Ombudsman on transparency within EU bodies with regard to fisheries policy. In case OI/2/2017/TE the Ombudsman found that there was maladministration with regard to “access to documents relating to Council preparatory bodies when discussing draft EU legislative acts”. In her recommendations, she insisted on the need to “systematically record the identities of Member States expressing positions in preparatory bodies.”


Fit for purpose? An assessment of the effectiveness of the Baltic Sea multi-annual plan (BSMAP)

September 24, 2019

In place since July 2016, the BSMAP, was the first management plan adopted by the EU after the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2013. Having been in place for three years it is being evaluated by the European Commission and has had a stakeholder consultation. Fit for purpose? An assessment of the effectiveness of the BSMAP is a joint analysis from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Birdlife International, WWF, FishSec and Oceana. We conclude that the BSMAP has failed to improve fisheries management in the Baltic Sea and recommend that MAPs and the CFP definine a maximum level of fishing mortality in future. The state of the Baltic ecosystem, its fish stocks and the decision-making process speaks for itself.

In summary:
  • MAPs were introduced in the CFP to address three specific challenges: the need for longer-term (multiannual) management geared towards achieving the CFP’s objectives; the need to take into account regional and ecosystem specificities; and the desire to bring decision-making closer to the regions in question.
  • The Baltic MAP was instrumentalised to serve other purposes, key among which was the facilitation of the implementation of the LO and providing decision-makers with flexibility regarding fisheries management – not only in the Baltic region, but first and foremost in other European seas.
  • The flawed design of the Baltic MAP led to management decisions and fishing practices that have failed to fulfill the intent of the CFP and achieve the MSFD’s Good Environmental Status target. The intended regionalisation elements have failed to ensure the MAP delivers on the specific needs of the Baltic in a timely manner, and lastly the MAP has failed to help deliver TACs in line with MSY and scientific advice.


Joint NGO response to the Commission consultation on the setting of fishing opportunities for 2020 under the CFP

August 21, 2019

In response to the Commission Communication on fishing opportunities for 2020, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Oceana, ClientEarth, Seas At Risk, FishSec and Our Fish have provided a joint response.

We urge the Commission to ensure that the TACs proposed and set for 2020 meet the objectives and requirements of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), ensure that the Landing Obligation (LO) is effectively implemented, and commit to a process of proposing and setting fishing opportunities that is transparent to citizens and civil society organisations.

In our recommendations to the Commission we call on them to follow scientific advie in all of its TAC proposals for 2020, for both target and bycatch stocks. Moreover, we highlight the need for correct implementation of the LO and provide seven policy improvements. In addition, we call on the Commission to improve the transparency and accountability of the TAC setting process.


Joint NGO letter to new Parliament: “EU needs committed and ambitious MEPs to save our ocean”

July 15, 2019

In a letter to newly elected MEPs serving in the European Parliament for the next five years, environmental organisations BirdLife, ClientEarth, The Fisheries Secretariat, New Economics Foundation, Oceana, Seas At Risk, and WWF called on politicians to deliver on 8 concrete EU commitments that protect marine life, habitats and biodiversity. The letter highlights that "the EU already has the laws, obligations and commitments. Now we call on you to move from words to actions. We count on your determination in this challenge."

These commitments include "4. Fully implement the Common Fisheries Policy. 5. Eliminate Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and strengthen fisheries control and enforcement; introduce fully documented fisheries. 6. Save the Mediterranean - the most overfished sea of the world - by reducing the excessive fishing effort, minimizing fishing impacts on vulnerable species and habitats and substantially improving the culture of compliance in the region."