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.

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."

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 recommendations on Baltic Sea fishing opportunities for 2020

June 10, 2019

In October 2019, EU fisheries ministers will agree on fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2020. This will be the final Council meeting where fisheries ministers have the opportunity to end overfishing of Baltic Sea species by 2020, as is legally required by the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

We urge the European Commission (EC) to propose, and the Council to agree on, Total Allowable Catches (TACs) in accordance with the following recommendations:
  • Set TACs not exceeding scientifically advised levels based on the Maximum Sustainable Yield(MSY) approach for all stocks for which MSY-based reference points are available.
  • Where MSY-based reference points are not available, to not exceed the precautionary approach catch limits advised by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).
  • Set TACs not exceeding the FMSY point value specified in the Baltic Multi-Annual Plan (MAP), following the ICES MSY Advice Rule when spawning stock biomass (SBB) is below the MSY Btrigger reference point.
  • Take into account the lack of implementation of the Landing Obligation (LO) when setting TACs, and ensure that TACs are respected by increasing monitoring and control of the LO.
Read the NGO briefing here.

EU Control Regulation Review – factsheets

March 15, 2019

On 6 November we have produced an updated and consolidated document: Joint NGO priorities on the revision of the EU Fisheries Control System

The following factsheets present the NGO priorities on the revision of the EU Control Regulation:

Joint NGO priorities on the revision of the Control Regulation

Remote Electronic Monitoring





Small-scale fisheries

The European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA)

These call on decision-makers to:
  • Ensure full compliance with the landing obligation;
  • Adapt the general control framework to the control of technical measures;
  • Maintain and improve the EU legal framework for enforcement and sanctions;
  • Mandate the use of cost-efficient tracking devices and the electronic reporting of catches and fishing operations for small-scale vessels;
  • Improve the control of recreational fisheries;
  • Improve traceability requirements;
  • Improve data management and sharing;
  • Ensure the monitoring and control of fleet capacity;
  • Effectively control fishing in restricted and marine protected areas;
  • Introduce transparency requirements;
  • Minimise the amendments to the EU IUU Regulation by staying within the scope of the Commission’s proposal and by strengthening only those provisions opened for review;
  • Revise the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) mandate.

Joint NGO proposal to EU Ministers regarding European eel

December 7, 2018

In a proposal to Ministers ahead of the December Council meeting several organisations have called for the full implementation of the ICES advice for the critically endangered European eel and suggested improvements regarding the fishery closure periods that were implemented last year.

Too many vessels chase too few fish – report on overcapacity in the EU

December 4, 2018

A new report from the Fisheries Secretariat shows that EU rules regarding fishing capacity are not being followed in the Baltic region. Member States have fudged their figures, obscuring which fleet segments and vessels fish on which stocks and the European Commission has not revised its guidelines in order to ensure clarity, as recommended by its own advisory committee. There is clear evidence that overcapacity has been used to influence quota negotiations at the EU Council, however, despite EU subsidy funding being based on there being no overcapacity the Commission has not taken action to follow through. Article 22 of the EU Common Fisheries Policy requires Member States to adjust the fishing capacity of its fleet to the available fishing opportunities. Overcapacity should be identified and addressed, in order to achieve a better balance with the harvested stocks, avoid overfishing, reduce incentives for discarding and other illegal practices, and avoid the socioeconomic problems caused by too many vessels competing over limited quotas. However, the system put in place to address overcapacity in 2013 fails at just about every step, according to the report. You can read our news story on the report here We have also produced national summaries for Denmark, Germany and Poland.

Summary of ICES advice on Baltic stocks for 2019

June 12, 2018

On 31 May 2018, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) Advisory Committee published their advice regarding the exploitation of the Baltic Sea fish stocks for 2019. Here we provide a summary and comment on the assessments and advice.

A table with the summary of the ICES advice can be found here.

Joint NGO letter to BALTFISH – spatial mangement of the sprat fishery

April 25, 2018

Nine organiations from across the Baltic region have written to BALTFISH requesting the adoption of the ICES recommendations with regards to sprat management.
For several years ICES have advised that "a spatial management plan is developed for the fisheries that catch sprat, with the aim to improve cod condition....[and] restrictions on sprat catches taken in the main cod area should be established."
Redirecting the sprat fishery away from subdivisions 25 and 26 would likely provide more food for the cod in these areas, where the cod stock is most dense however is marked by stunted growth. There are clear ecosystem interactions between sprat and cod which managers should take into account.
Spatial management of the fishery would also allow cluepids (herring and sprat) to grow larger in the more northern areas of the Baltic Sea where their population density is higher. In addition, a lower incidence of the M74 disease in salmon populations would be expected as a result of a reduced proportion sprat in their diet.
We recommend that BALTFISH adopts the recommendations for the spatial management of sprat as this would likely benefit all the main commercial stocks in the Baltic Sea.

FishSec EBFM Recommendations

June 27, 2017

FishSec has completed a set of recommendations for the implementation of ecosystem-based fisheries management (EBFM) in the Baltic Sea region. The recommendations are based on the EBFM seminar in June 2016 that was organised by Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre, The Fisheries Secretariat (FishSec) and the International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) in Stockholm.