Early this morning, the European Union Fisheries Council ended its meeting with an agreement. The objective of this meeting has been to set out the fishing limits for 2017, also known as Total Allowable Catches (TAC), for most part of the fish stocks in the North-East Atlantic and adjacent waters.
Unfortunately, during this meeting, the Fisheries Ministers of the 28 EU member states were not ambitious enough, and once again, many fishing limits have been set above the scientific recommendations that were already publicly available months ago.
This is a key decision to end overfishing and restore fish stocks at healthy levels, as it is required in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). This is a binding target that should be achieved no later than 2020 but which we are still far away from reaching. According to the European Commission, more than 60% of assessed stocks in the EU are outside safe biological limits and nearly half of stocks are subject to overfishing.
As the Fisheries Council finalized just a few hours ago, the analysis of the decisions taken are still provisional, since the final agreement reached will not be completely public until a few weeks. But in any case, at first glance, numerous fishing opportunities set for 2017 seem upsetting.
For example, for the southern hake stock (Cantabrian Sea and Atlantic Iberian waters) the scientific advice established a wanted catch of 6,838 tonnes but the catch limit finally agreed by Minsters has been 10,520 tonnes (i.e. 54% over scientific advice). For whiting west stock (Bay of Biscay and Atlantic Iberian waters) the scientific advice recommended no more than 1613 tonnes of landings, however a fishing limit of 2,540 tons has been legislated (57% over scientific advice). Likewise, for the northern pollack (Celtic Seas and the English Channel) the catch limit recommended was 4080 tons, it has been finally established at 12,146 tons (198% above the sustainable level advised by the scientific recommendation).
On the opposite side, a few stocks are managed in a sustainable way and are in good shape, these are for example the anglerfish in Cantabrian Sea and Atlantic Iberian waters, whose limit has been set at 3955 tonnes (10% below the scientific advice), as well as the Atlantic Iberian mackerel, whose catch limit coincides with the 73349 tons scientifically advised.
In any case, the fact that most of the Northeast Atlantic stocks are still overfished, the results of the Council seem a continuation of malpractice carried out by the 28 EU Fisheries Ministers in recent years. It must to be noted that, although it is the responsibility of each Member State to put an end to overfishing, Spain is one of the EU countries which has established historically fishing limits above scientific advice (a place it shares with the UK and Portugal amongst others, as reflected in an article published in Marine Policy).
Not to follow the scientific advice when setting fishing limits has led to overfishing and the degradation of the ecosystems, and therefore the loss of the economic potential of the sector itself. While, as shown by numerous scientific reports and evidence, fishing at sustainable levels would bring numerous economic and social benefits to the fisheries involved and the general public. For these reasons -in addition to being a legal imperative- it is necessary to restore fish stocks to sustainable levels and achieve a good environmental status of the marine environment by 2020 at the latest.
These demands are also collected in a scientific manifesto supported by more than 4000 people from the Spanish scientific community. In which it is also indicated that the CFP also requires limiting the environmental impact of fishing activities, as well as preventing and minimizing unwanted catches. Another important point of great relevance is the need for the state to distribute the available quota based on environmental and social criteria. Factors that will certainly benefit the fleet with a low environmental impact of our coast.
Fundació ENT charts of certain fish stocks of Spanish fishing fleet interest show the percentage of quotas established above the scientific advice by the EU Fisheries Council between 2013 and 2017.
Amongst the graphs shown here, southern anglerfish is the only example of stock managed sustainably. High quality graphics can be downloaded HERE.