For the fourth year in a row Fundació ENT, in collaboration with the organizations Sciaena and Ecologistas en Acción, has analyzed the European Commission’s communications on EU fisheries in line with the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) for the period 2015 to 2019.

This detailed analysis raises a number of concerns regarding the methodology used by the Commission, showing that the number of stocks being set “in line with MSY” in EU fisheries has been overestimated by 16% since 2015.

In order to allow the recovery of fish stocks to sustainable levels, the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) requires that the MSY exploitation rate shall be achieved by 2015 where possible and at the latest by 2020 for all stocks. Despite five years having passed since the reformedCFP entered into force, there remains much opacity around the real number of stocks exploited at sustainable levels in the EU, as defined by the number of Total Allowable Catches (TACs) set in line with scientific advice based on the MSY.

Since December 2014, following the decisions agreed annually by the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers, the European Commission publishes its communication listing which stocks fished in the North East Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic Sea are considered “in line with MSY” for the following year (i.e. see communication for 2019). However, these communications, which are essential for measuring the steps made by EU Fisheries Ministers when establishing sustainable fishing limits, reveal significant inconsistencies that prevent evaluation of the true progress made in accordance with the legal requirements that EU institutions must meet.

In particular, the comparison document produced by Fundació ENT shows that multiple TACs reported as being “in line with MSY” for the years 2015, 2016, 2017 or 2018 are no longer in that category in 2019. Furthermore, this detailed analysis also shows a number of inconsistencies and errors on the amount of sustainable fishing limits published by the Commission since 2015, showing that progress to end overfishing in EU waters has been even slower than expected.

For instance, the analysis for 2019 revels that:

  • 4 TACs should not feature as in line with MSY in the 2019 Commission list as EU Fisheries Ministers agreed to set TACs exceeding scientific advice in relation to MSY.
  • 5 TACs should not be classified as being in line with MSY in 2019 due to only partial or no MSY advice on catch available from ICES for stocks covered by a TAC, or because the stock does not correspond to a TAC or a stock area.
  • Only 7 out of 13 TACs classified as new can be truly considered new in the 2019 Commission list.

As a result of this analysis, it can be reported that the overall number of TACs set in line with MSY for the period 2015 to 2019, would be:

  • 30 for 2015 TACs (instead of 30)
  • 29 for 2016 TACs (instead of 38)
  • 37 for 2017 TACs (instead of 47)
  • 50 for 2018 TACs (instead of 53)
  • 49 for 2019 TACs (instead of 59)

This alarming trend shows that progress towards ending overfishing has actually been reversed in the last year, demonstrating an alarming lack of progress taking into account the EU’s own legally binding deadline for achieving sustainable fishing limits for all stocks by 2020 at the latest.

Lydia Chaparro, one of the authors of this study, concludes that “overall, the Commission has overestimated by 16% the number of TACs set in line with MSY since 2015. This is why we again urge the Commission to increase transparency and incorporate substantial and essential improvements in its communication. In view of the CFP’s 2020 deadline, and the considerable amount of fish stocks still overfished in EU waters, we urge the Commission and Member States to ensure that all fishing opportunities for 2020 do not exceed scientific advice and to further ensure that the precautionary approach, as defined in the CFP, is also applied. It is time to stop delaying and secure sustainable fisheries in the EU”.

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See the report in ISSUU